IRIN (posted and edited by Sian Glaessner) | 13.08.2003 10:09 | World
There is another queue on the far side of the petrol station, women. Some of them have found shelter from the harsh sunlight under a crude brick shelter, fenced in with barbed wire. They are queuing for propane gas- now this Iraq’s favourite cooking fuel. They fill their battered cylinders at the official price of 250 Iraqi dinars each. Some women spent all night here, hoping the rumors of another tanker delivery are true. Noone knows when it will arrive.
As with petrol, many of the cylinders will be resold. On the black market, a full cylinder will fetch up to 3,500 dinars. Under an economy crippled by massive unemployment, black-market selling of fuel and other supplies has become an alternative means of earning a living for the man or woman in the street. This country has the second largest oil reserves in the world, but important petroleum products are scarce; as are petrol and propane gas, paraffin and diesel fuel. Frustration and resentment, a rampant black market, and queues moving at a snail's pace in the heat of the August sun- these are the prime features of “liberated” Iraq. Temperatures have risen above 50 C in recent days.
The root of the problem, said Omar Alshikh of the UN Joint Logistics Centre is the lack of a dependable electricity supply. Power is still intermittent in much of the country, and outages mean that crucial oil refineries suspend operations. "You might not believe it, but if the voltage drops for just one second, it can make Baghdad's Dawrah refinery shut down," he told IRIN. "And if there's a shut-down, you can't just switch it on again; it will take two or three days to get it back to normal operating conditions. And the same goes for Iraq's other big refineries."
The 1.25 million-plus barrels of crude oil a day Iraq is now producing should in theory suffice to meet all its domestic needs but the oil refineries cannot cope. Smugglers are attracted by the high prices neighbouring countries are prepared to pay. Distribition systems even of imported fuel are faulty: the UNJLC says distribution is sometimes skewed, with large quantities of fuel being delivered to Baghdad while Basra is struggling to meet demand, a situation which recently prompted riots in the southern city.
Paraffin is another major concern. Normally, paraffin is stockpiled during the summer to be available for heating in the winter. However, so far, there has been no stockpiling, and the UNJLC says a winter shortage is "probable to the point of near certainty". The southern gas-oil separation plant remains inoperative so propane is scarce. Until production begins again, imports are the only source, but these are hindered by continuing pipeline problems and a lack of trucks, so the shortfall is unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future.
If such shortages persist or get worse, there are fears that Baghdad could be affected by the kind of unrest that recently broke out in Basra. And an increased reliance on imports and foreign reconstruction contracts threatens to permanently damage Iraqs domestic industries.
Back in the queue for fuel where women stand in silence under the unbearable sun, you see the reality of this infrastructure collapse: "I am tired of this situation and we have been suffering for a long time with these long lines. We are frustrated," a woman at the petrol station in Al-Dawrah told IRIN. "I have been waiting here for five hours." Another woman said she had stocked up on gas five months ago and was angry to see people selling it on the black market. "This is not good for the Iraqi people. Iraqis are a good people - this does not represent us," she said. But the queues continue to form, and no immediate end to the fuel crisis is in sight.
IRIN (posted and edited by Sian Glaessner)