Heat wave hits Iraq—and sparks begin to fly

Iraqis cool themselves off at an indoor water park during a heat wave in the capital Baghdad
Iraqis cool themselves off at an indoor water park during a heat wave in the capital Baghdad

Hospital ventilators shut down, football matches with obligatory water breaks and food spoiling in fridges without power: Iraq's notorious summer has arrived.

As one of the hottest countries in the world with around half of its terrain covered in desert, Iraq is no stranger to stiflingly hot summers.

But even by its own standards, this June has been a sizzler—averaging a daily 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit), compared to around 40 in previous years.

Across the country, Iraqis have sprung into usual routines to cope: wrapping outside door handles in tape to stop them getting too hot in the sun, keeping a change of clothes in the car, or stepping fully-clothed into curbside showers to cool off.

Working hours have changed, with businesses opening and closing later to take advantage of the cooler evenings.

Baghdad residents shutter themselves away during the searing afternoons, then re-emerge around midnight or later for a belated dinner in the manageable 35-degree heat.

Inside, they crank up air conditioning units, putting extra strain on the country's dilapidated and causing the much-despised outages that sparked massive protests last year.

In Dhi Qar, a province south of Baghdad, the cuts have hit public hospitals, said provincial health chief Abdel Hassan al-Jaberi.

"People are hesitating to come to the hospital because the electricity is cutting 17 times per day," he told AFP.

Buying less

Private clinics purchase their own generators to keep machines running during the outages, but these remain unaffordable for many of Iraq's 40 million citizens.

Some people are buying fewer groceries, fearing they'll spoil if it's too hot and the power goes out.

An Iraqi man uses a curbside shower to cool off
An Iraqi man uses a curbside shower to cool off

"Everyone is buying less," said Abu Haydar, a shopkeeper in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar's largest city.

Like most residents, he gets up to 12 hours of state-provided electricity per day and supplements them by paying for a generator so his wares don't go bad.

Further south in the oil-rich province of Basra, the heat has reached life-threatening levels.

Oil companies have hoisted purple flags above their facilities to signal the highest possible danger levels for those working on the fields given the .

Even Iraq's football league has been forced to make adjustments for its national championship, which falls during the .

There are dozens of outdoor arenas, but only five of them have the floodlights necessary for nighttime games and athletes are forced to play during the day.

That puts them at risk of dehydration, heatstroke and other conditions, says sports nutritionist and football coach Lotfi Moussawi.

"The players suffer from hypoglycemia, breathing problems, and extreme fatigue that could even reach the point of fainting," Moussawi told AFP.

To mitigate the risks, referees pause matches every 15 minutes to allow players a sip of water and a few moments in the shade.

Ministry in the crosshairs

"Players then undergo medical and physical examinations" to make sure the heat has not left any adverse after-effects, says Khayam al-Khazarji.

Khazarji is the communications head for Al-Kahraba, one of Iraq's several dozen football clubs, many of which are linked to government bodies.

An Iraqi street vendor protects his head from the sun by using a piece of cardboard
An Iraqi street vendor protects his head from the sun by using a piece of cardboard

"Al-Kahraba," ironically, means "electricity"—a club named after its patron, Iraq's strapped power ministry.

The ministry is in the public's crosshairs every summer due to outages, which occur year-round but are more common and damaging during the hot months.

The United States has granted Iraq another 90-day waiver to continue with vital energy imports from neighbouring Iran despite re-imposed sanctions, a government source said Saturday.

The extension came after "long discussions" with Washington ahead of a looming deadline on a previous extension granted in December, the official, close to the negotiations, told AFP.

Iraq pipes in up to 28 million cubic metres of Iranian gas a day for power generation and also directly imports up to 1,300 megawatts of Iranian electricity.

As the focal point for public anger, however, electricity ministers in Iraq almost never finish their full four-year term.

Last year, the minister of electricity was ousted after a wave of protests over power and water that rocked the country's south.

His successor, Luay al-Khateeb, has sought to ramp up the grid before the summer to avoid the same fate.

That involves building new power plants, but also repairing decrepit transmission lines that, according to the International Energy Agency, lose up to 40 percent of generated electricity before they reach homes.

Khateeb had promised 20 hours of state-provided power daily this summer and has already faced over failing to do so, with hundreds of protesters hitting the streets in Basra and Diwaniyah.

With temperatures set to rise further in the weeks ahead, government officials are bracing themselves.

"The heat is reaching levels we haven't registered since 2011," says Amer al-Jaberi of the state meteorological office.

"It's going to be a hot summer," says Jaberi.

Explore further

Electricity crisis leaves Iraqis gasping for cool air

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Heat wave hits Iraq—and sparks begin to fly (2019, June 16) retrieved 23 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-06-iraqand.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 16, 2019
This farce of insufficient electricity in IRAQ is solely due the US plundering of IRAQ. Our 'modernization' has taken over 20 years and the electricity is just as insufficient and poorly infrastructured as it was when we invaded, and I propose this is intended as it keeps the country controllable.
Note this is the key result from any US or western power control. In Angola, the war for independence and subsequent civil war set the stage for the colonialists to regain control by instigating large water and electrification projects which have never seen completion, are insufficient in design, and poorly constructed. ONLY the capitol ever sees electrical completion and of course, the capital is controlled by western powers. Note this is the same result in IRAQ as Baghdad is the only well electrified area.
Afghanistan has followed the same lines, promised roads and water infrastructure were never built, the electrification remains concentrated in the Kabul. The new war.

Jun 16, 2019
These desert tribes of old

How did these desert tribes manage a 100 or more years ago when the heat was realy on
For they had no running water
No electricity
No fridges
The shops could not keep fresh food
No mobiles
These Iraqis today do not know their born
Their fore fathers are looking down at these raggle taggle of their descendants with dismay
For heaven's sakes
Lads and lass's you've never had it so good

Jun 16, 2019

What is there to plunder? Petrol is readily available from the Saudis and America has its own vast supply. Are there gold, silver, diamond, copper mines in Iraq or Afghanistan?

The Sumerians and Akkadians of Uruk (Iraq) had it much worse, just as the Neandertals of 65,000 ya most likely lived close to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers rather than the desert areas. They had to dig their own wells with no assurance that they would find water.
Iraq and Afghanistan are both backward nations in spite of the help that they get from western nations, due to so much corruption in their government.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more