Libyans endure sweltering summer as power cuts persist

TRIPOLI: On a sweltering night in Libya’s capital, Ahlam Fathi watches her son study by candlelight as yet another power cut has plunged the family home into darkness.
Despite the large windows being swung open, the air hangs heavily in the small central Tripoli apartment.
“I can’t even be mad at him for failing one or two subjects,” said Fathi of her son, who is revising for his high school exit exams.
The 41-year-old mother of two teenagers is one of millions of Libyans enduring prolonged power cuts amid high summer humidity and temperatures which sometimes reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
“The summer is difficult in Libya, as always, but you feel the heat even more in small apartments because of the electricity cuts, which often last more than 10 hours,” she said.
Tripoli residents flock to beaches and other public spaces during power outages, escaping the heat of their homes as air conditioning and fans remain switched off.
Residents have also been hit by sharp price rises, including a fourfold jump in the cost of bread in less than a month.
Cross-border smuggling of subsidised goods has created shortages which have left families struggling to get by.
While these are nationwide problems, they are exacerbated in the crowded capital, which is home to 2.5 million residents and others displaced from fighting elsewhere in the country.
Cities in western Libya refuse to share the burden of power shortages, and militias often forcefully prevent national electricity firm Gecol from imposing rationing.
In Tripoli, fighting erupted this week between rival militias in the southern suburbs, with Gecol warning of a total blackout after the clashes damaged the electricity network.
University professor Amal Khayri, 40, said the situation has forced Libyans to install generators, but they are “often very expensive, not very powerful and of poor quality.”
The trade has created employment in a time of crisis, as selling and fixing generators has become a lucrative business.
Abdallah Al-Werfalli, an electrical engineer, said repairing generators has boosted his income.
“That’s how I provide for my family,” said the 53-year-old father of three.
The ongoing power shortages since dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled in 2011 illustrate the failures of successive transitional authorities in the oil-rich nation.
Poor public services and dire living conditions have largely persisted under the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which was installed in 2016 and has committed to holding elections later this year.
But for many Libyans, including 53-year-old Ramadan Al-Bouni, talk of a vote is fanciful without first addressing people’s basic needs.
“I want to laugh when they talk to me about elections, a constitution or a referendum,” said Bouni, who sells electrical goods.
“(I) don’t find the time or the energy to think about things other than the hours wasted… in queueing up outside the bank or the petrol station,” he said.
Gecol puts power supply shortages down to factors including theft and vandalism.
The company also says numerous projects have been mothballed since 2011 as foreign companies have pulled out of Libya due to violence.
“We run into difficulties, especially during summer peak” demand, said Gecol spokesman Mohammed Al-Tekouri.
“But it’s also a consequence of insecurity.”

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