Wealthy Kuwait hit by power crisis as mercury tops 50 - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos

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Wealthy Kuwait hit by power crisis as mercury tops 50 - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos

By Omar Hasan
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 00:10:00 06/17/2010

Filed Under: Weather, Electricity Production & Distribution,Government, Graft & Corruption, Politics, Crisis

KUWAIT CITY—Record temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in the desert state of Kuwait have placed it on the brink of a major power crisis and put the government under fire politically.

The meteorological office said it recorded 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 F) on Tuesday in the capital Kuwait City, the highest temperature under the shade in more than 30 years, according to the office's boss.

"It is the highest temperature to be recorded in more than 30 years," Khaled al-Shuaibi told AFP. "Temperature has been above normal for a few days and it stayed above 50 degrees for up to four hours daily."

Under the direct sun, temperature "could reach 70 degrees Celsius (158 F) when humidity is very low and no winds blow," which has been the case in the past few days, said Shuaibi.

In the open desert at the Kuwait-Iraq border post of Abdali, the temperature soared to 53 degrees Celsius (127.4 F) for the second straight day on Tuesday.

It is not abnormal for temperatures to hit 50 degrees in Kuwait, but the big heat wave has arrived early this year.

As a result, power consumption hit new all-time highs on each of the past three days until it almost reached the maximum production capacity, prompted by the use of air conditioning to beat the heat.

On Tuesday, consumption hit 10,921 megawatts out of a total production capacity of just 10,950 megawatts after a small generation unit broke down, ringing a strong alarm.

Opposition MPs put the blame squarely on the government, charging total mismanagement, a lack of planning and corruption.

"The whole government is incapable of facing the (power) crisis," said Islamist MP Faisal al-Muslim in a statement on Tuesday.

"It is very difficult to transform Kuwait into a regional trade and financial hub when electricity is cut from the homes of citizens," said the spokesman of the opposition Popular Action Bloc MP Mussallam al-Barrak.

Islamist MP Khaled al-Sultan said this was the result of corruption and government incompetence.

"This is what the corruption has led to in the ministry of electricity and water ... The minister should step down if he can not perform his duties," Sultan said in a statement. He threatened to grill the minister.

On Tuesday, 21 MPs in the 50-member house demanded an emergency debate on the deteriorating power situation in OPEC's fifth-largest producer. The debate will be held on Sunday.

Three MPs proposed that public sector working hours end at midday instead of 2:30 p.m. to save electricity, and the government said it will consider the proposal.

Most electricity is consumed by air conditioning units, which are normally run non-stop from March to November.

The government instructed all ministries and government offices to switch off electricity at the end of working hours. Schools were ordered to shut down early and kindergarten children were sent home.

The army resorted to its diesel-powered generators as the government appealed to the public to switch off all unnecessary appliances and air conditioning units to save power.

Several residential districts experienced power cuts for several hours during the past few days, but officials said it was because of incidents at transformers and not a programmed power cuts policy.

"It looks as if we have reached the melting point. We have decided that the family and I will only venture (out) to go to work or if necessary," Ahmad Masud, a government employee, told AFP by phone.

Minister of Electricity and Water Bader al-Azemi blamed the lack of new power plants for the crisis, saying the Gulf state has not built a new power plant since 1988.

Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmad al-Sabah said in September that Kuwait aims to double its power generation capacity to more than 20,000 megawatts over the next five years.

Kuwait, which operates a cradle-to-grave welfare policy for nationals, sells power at highly subsidized rates of 0.7 cents per kilowatt/hour to its 1.1 million citizens and 2.35 million foreign residents.

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