Basra: Umm Mohammed, 74, shakes a fan back and forth to cool it, but it’s only breathtaking in the heat of the city of Basra in southern Iraq. Basra is accustomed to the scorching summer heat, but this year begins earlier than expected, causing misery to urban dwellers suffering from chronic power shortages. “God makes us tired,” said Umm Mohammed faintly, adding that her heat awakened her in the middle of the night.

Just in the summer days, Basra’s temperature has already risen to about 45 degrees Celsius. Umm Mohammed’s modest house has a flimsy sheet metal roof that keeps it hot and humid. Further north of the capital Baghdad, temperatures are already above 50 degrees Celsius – in the shade. Iraq has been devastated by decades of conflict that destroyed infrastructure, suffering from droughts, repeated sandstorms, desertification, and several river water level drops.

Chronic power outages worsen in the summer, and only those who can afford their own generators can continue to operate their refrigerators and air conditioners. In Basra, high humidity exacerbates repressive heat. And since many Iraqis struggle to survive, spending about $ 105 a month on a private generator is not an option. Authorities “must help the poor,” said Umm Mohammed, accusing them of failing to provide adequate trunk supplies. “Even God disagrees with it,” she said of how the government treats citizens.

Iraq is the second largest oil producer in the OPEC cartel. But once prosperous countries have been buying gas for years from neighboring Iran, which supplies about one-third of the needs of the electricity sector. US sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas have complicated payments for Baghdad’s imports, put Iraq in heavy arrears and urged Tehran to cut taps on a regular basis.

As a result, most of Iraq’s 41 million population is out of power, many of whom blame politicians and endemic corruption. Anger over power outages helped fuel deadly protests from late 2019 to mid-2020, including much in southern Iraq. Natak al-Kafazi, who lives in Nasiriyah, just north of Basra, said it was “very difficult for children and the elderly” to get through the heat without electricity. “It’s hell,” he added.

During the summer vacation, Kafaji’s three children have nowhere to go and rarely do. Stuck in a darkened house, they do their best to escape the stuffy heat outdoors. Khafaji bought a battery-powered fan, but expressed concern that it might not be enough in the worst of “close to 50 degrees”.

The United Nations ranks Iraq as one of the top five countries most vulnerable to climate change. Since mid-April, we have been hit by 10 sandstorms. It is the result of severe drought, soil degradation, high temperatures and low rainfall and is associated with climate change. President Balham Sariha warned that tackling climate change “is an existential threat to the future of future generations and must become a national priority for Iraq.” According to Saleh, desertification is affecting 39% of Iraq, where water supply is significantly reduced and yields are declining.

Seif Al-Badr, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said health problems will increase as heat waves and sandstorms “are expected to increase year by year.” “We look forward to treating more people because of the various climate-related illnesses,” he told AFP. However, efforts to tackle such issues appear to have been shelved as Iraq is tackling a political impasse that left Iraq without a new government after a poll last October. The World Bank warns that Iraq could lose 20 percent of its water resources by 2050 due to climate change unless a solution is found. – AFP

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