Lebanon: A potential blackout

Bassem Aly , Monday 4 Oct 2021

Lebanon fears a total nationwide blackout by the end of September.

A potential blackout
Lebanese lawmakers and ministers wait in the foyer due to a power outage at a meeting to confirm Lebanon s new government. Electricity came back 40 minutes later (photo: AP)

Conditions have evidently not improved following the long-awaited formation of a government headed by Najib Mikati in Lebanon. The state electricity company announced last Thursday that a total blackout may occur across Lebanon due to huge shortages in fuel reserves.

In its statement, the company said it can produce less than 500 megawatts from fuel oil following a deal with Iraq. But it also noted it is no longer capable of securing Grade A and Grade B reserves of fuel oil for some power plants, which have accordingly halted production.

“The network already experienced total blackouts across the country seven times and if this continues there is a high risk of reaching total and complete blackout by end September,” the company explained.

Lebanon has recently been looking for external solutions to solve its energy crises, one of many socio-economic challenges it continues to face.

Earlier this month, Egypt and Lebanon agreed that Egyptian natural gas would be delivered to the latter through Jordanian and Syrian pipelines. This announcement followed a press briefing in Jordan with the energy ministers of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

“Egypt is working to speed up coordination for the delivery of Egyptian natural gas to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria, given Egypt’s keenness to ease the burdens of the Lebanese people and to contribute to supporting Lebanon’s stability,” Egypt’s Petroleum Minister Tarek Al-Molla said.

Another was the July deal with Iraq, which gives Lebanon the chance to resell 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil to Iraqi firms that the former cannot count on for its power plants. In return, these firms will secure usable oil for Lebanon throughout the next few years. Lebanon will also provide Iraq with consultancy services in health and agriculture, Lebanese local media reported. Lebanon’s Energy Minister Raymond Ghajjar said the new deal is worth $300-400 million. “We hope other Arab countries follow suit and give us this opportunity because it is really a golden opportunity for us,” Ghajjar said.

In the meantime, on 16 September, the Shia group Hizbullah revealed that it transferred more than a million gallons of Iranian diesel fuel into Lebanon from Syria. Although this step can be seen as a breach of US sanctions on purchasing Iranian oil, Washington did not seem willing to escalate.

“I don’t think anyone is going to fall on their sword if someone’s able to get fuel into hospitals that need it,” the US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea told Al-Arabiya English. Part of Lebanon’s energy crisis is related to the “reform measures” that many world governments have been waiting to see in Lebanon since last year’s unprecedented port blast.

While Mikati was in Paris on Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron for one told him that “Lebanon should also start the vital negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, that should be completed quite quickly.” Macron, arguably the key international mediator between the Lebanese parties, visited the country several times and arranged donor conferences for it.

“The fuel crisis could indeed be eased as the Lebanese army has in recent days been seizing stockpiles meant to be sold on the black market or smuggled into Syria. The governor of the Central Bank also announced the lifting of fuel subsidies last week which would make smuggling into Syria less lucrative and would inevitably decrease demand while also increasing tension. Dark days indeed, in more ways than one,” Sarah Al-Richani, a professor of mass communications at the American University in Cairo (AUC) told Al- Ahram Weekly in late August.

Since the end of its roughly two-decade civil war, Lebanon has consistently suffered from electricity blackouts, relying on fuel imports. But the ongoing economic crisis has made dealing with it harder than ever.

Lebanon is facing huge shortages in electricity, medicines and basic supplies. How the country might be able to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic at the same time is almost unimaginable. This situation pushed the Central Bank to end subsidies on fuel products as it started to run out of reserves, which was followed by a general price hike in goods and services and protests.

“The Lebanese political establishment is now more interested in expediting the economic and security collapse of the country. The crisis is serving different sectarian leaders, mobilising their desperate communities,” Emad Salamey, a professor of political science at the American University in Beirut explained.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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