War-torn Libya’s electricians battle to keep the lights on

This picture shows the headquarters of the General Electricity Company of Libya in Tripoli, on May 23, 2019. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)
Updated 30 May 2019
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War-torn Libya’s electricians battle to keep the lights on

  • High-voltage cables run along the road for 30 kilometers (20 miles), carrying electricity to the capital, but they are regularly damaged by the fighting
  • Libya has faced chronic electricity shortages since 2011, particularly during the cold of winter and the searing heat of summer

TRIPOLI: Precariously perched 50 meters up an electricity pylon providing power to Libya’s capital, Mohamad Dahman attempts to fix damage caused by fighting — but hastily descends when a rocket explodes nearby.
“We’re used to working under bombing,” he says.
“Our repair teams have been at high risk since 2011,” the year a NATO-backed uprising toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi, plunging the country into years of bloody chaos.
On the road leading to Tripoli’s long-disused international airport, fighting has raged since early April when eastern-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an assault to seize the capital from Libya’s unity government.
The only traffic on the highway today consists of tanks and armored vehicles. Most residents have fled.
High-voltage cables run along the road for 30 kilometers (20 miles), carrying electricity to the capital, but they are regularly damaged by the fighting.
Despite the heat, the Ramadan fast and “the danger of being hit by random rockets,” Dahman says he keeps coming back to fix them.
“Hopefully we can make things easier for people by shortening the blackouts.”
Later on, as they were repairing another pylon, he and his team came under heavy fire and had to leave the area in a hurry.
Mohamad Abdallah, human resources manager at the national General Electricity Company of Libya (Gecol), says each damaged transmission tower can take up to 48 hours to repair.
“The fighting means we can’t finish operations” on the many pylons that need fixing, he says.
Libya has faced chronic electricity shortages since 2011, particularly during the cold of winter and the searing heat of summer.
The supply is rationed, with cuts averaging more than ten hours a day during the summer season when air conditioning is indispensable.
For now, the weather is mild.
But power outages may worsen in the heat of the desert summer, exacerbated by the damage caused by fighting between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army and armed groups nominally loyal to the Tripoli-based unity government.
Ayad Al-Geneidi, Gecol’s executive manager, tells AFP that the network had suffered “huge damage” in the fighting.
“They’ve hit every part of the network, from the wires to the pylons and the distribution stations,” he says at his office near the airport highway.
He explains that some installations have been completely destroyed, particularly in regions near the airport which have seen fierce fighting.
“It keeps happening — every day there are new bombings,” he says.
Even before Haftar’s offensive began, Gecol estimated that fighting and looting since 2011 had caused more than a billion dollars-worth of damage to its network.
“We’re expecting a 1,000 megawatt shortfall in the middle of summer,” Geneidi says, predicting that the network could produce around 6,000 megawatts — providing it isn’t damaged further.
The latest round of fighting has also forced two European companies at a power station west of Tripoli, one Italian and one Austrian, to halt operations and evacuate their staff.
Other firms from South Korea, Turkey and Germany had to suspend projects to build new power stations under contracts signed prior to the 2011 uprising.
The reluctance of foreign firms to return to the volatile country means it relies on its neighbors, Algeria and Tunisia, for electricity.
“We’re counting on the national spirit of Libyans to help us by reducing their electricity use during the summer peak times,” Geneidi says.
But with another scorching summer approaching, many will find it hard to resist the temptation to crank the air conditioning up to full blast whenever the power is on.


PLO expects less overt racism from a Gantz administration

Updated 20 September 2019

PLO expects less overt racism from a Gantz administration

  • Retired general Benny Gantz is contesting the Israeli leadership from PM Benjamin Netanyahu

AMMAN, Jordan: A senior PLO official told Arab News that no substantive difference will occur with a possible Benny Gantz administration in Israel but “it will most likely have less overt racism.”

PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi noted that the head of the Blue and White party in Israel has not shown any significant interest in a major change of policy toward Palestinians. “Given the fact that he competed with (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu on who has been tougher with Palestinians and he didn’t oppose Netanyahu’s threat to annex the Jordan Valley, I don’t expect any serious change on the ground and for sure no change in regards to Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Riyad Al-Maliki the Palestinian foreign minister called on the world community to engage with the “golden opportunity” for peace being offered by Palestinians saying president Mahmoud Abbas offers to negotiate with any new head of state in Israel. “We respect the results of Israel’s democratic elections and we are willing to sit with whoever establishes a new government to renew peace negotiations,”
Al-Maliki said.

The head of Palestinian diplomacy continued in a statement issued in Oslo on behalf of the Palestinian president saying that “this is a strong and clear statement to the Israeli society and the international community that the Palestinian leadership is ready for talks with the other side and that this is a reassurance that we have never rejected any chance for negotiations, a position that president Abbas assured US President Donald Trump in his four meetings with the American leader.”

SPEEDREAD

The head of the Blue and White party in Israel has not shown any significant interest in a major change of policy toward Palestinians.

While awaiting the Israeli response to this Palestinian peace overture, Ashrawi predicted, that a Benny Gantz administration might have a softer public stand regarding Palestinians.  “I expect less overt racism and violent military rhetoric from him,” she said.

The senior Palestinian official at the same time also expected that some small “living conditions” changes could occur if the opponent of Netanyahu became prime minister. “We are realistic and therefore we don’t expect an epiphany or an about-turn, nor do we expect a full commitment to a just peace, but it is possible that a different government in Israel might carry certain steps to ease pressure on Palestinians.”

The recent period has seen a major escalation by the Netanyahu government both verbally and in policy toward Palestinians and the Palestinian government. 

Ashrawi expects that the Israeli policymakers are aware of how “volatile” the situation has become under Netanyahu in recent years. Ashrawi told Arab News that a new Israeli government might want “to defuse this volatility” and make certain improvements on various levels, including the Gaza siege or on the movement of people and goods. 

“But we will not ask for such improvements,” she said.