New ESCWA report reveals regionís power problems
Nearly half the population is deprived of electricity
ESCWA conference highlights an alarming level of inequality
Dania Saadi, Daily Star staff. DS: 09/10/2001
A report published Monday by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) said the inequitable distribution of regional power has left more than two-fifths of the population without electricity. This alarming level of deprivation is only one of the multifaceted power generation anomalies in the 13 countries that make up the ESCWA region, which accounts for 57 percent of the worldís total proven oil reserves in 1999.
"Currently, the region has an installed electricity-generating capacity of over 72 gigawatts. However, over 43 percent of its population are living in rural and remote areas with virtually no access to generated electricity," said the report, released at the opening session of a four-day power conference organized by ESCWA.
The report does not bode well for the future, either: "The energy consumption patterns in the region are unsustainable," it asserted. "In 1998, it varied from about 20 percent of the world average in Yemen to more than eight times (world average) in Qatar."
Anhar Heghazi, an energy expert at ESCWA, put a more human spin on the irregular patterns of power consumption and generation. "You find in a country like Yemen nearly 76 percent of the population living without electricity," said Heghazi, "while only 10 percent may not have power in the Gulf region."
Access to power becomes more dismal when compared to the regionís low use of renewable energy sources such as sun and wind. "The region is blessed by an intensive resource base of renewable energy as all countries in the region enjoy high availability of solar radiation at a utilizable level," said the report, "(However), renewable energy, including hydro, contributed only 3 percent (to total energy consumption) in 1998."
Besides more than two-fifths of the ESCWA regionís inhabitants living in darkness, power distribution among the rest of the population is not adequate. "Although the majority of urban areas in the region have access to fuel and electricity supplies, the quality of such access is neither adequate nor sustained in many cases," said the report.
Heghazi said one need look no further than Lebanon, a typical example of an ESCWA country struggling to maintain sustained power consumption and adequate access to electricity. Lebanonís own fragmented power network presents a kaleidoscope of the ESCWA regionís checkered history of power generation and consumption.
"Primary energy consumption in the region increased between 1973 and 1999 by 6.3 times," said the ESCWA report. "The growth rate was not regular, reaching more than 12 percent in the period 1973-85 but dropping to 4.4 percent between 1986 and 1996 owing to regional events and the decline in oil prices."
Irregular energy consumption patterns are further exacerbated by the figures on carbon dioxide emissions used as a barometer for environmental damage. According to ESCWAís figures, total carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion in the region rose 6.46 times between 1973 and 1996, without a reciprocal increase in power distribution to the population.
"During the period 1975 to 1985, the carbon dioxide to gross domestic product ratio for other world groups started to decline," said the report, "but it increased drastically in the ESCWA region to exceed world averages. Although these figures are affected by many other factors, they indicate that energy consumption in the region is comparatively wasteful rather than productive."
Other figures back the axiom of wasteful energy consumption in the ESCWA region. With 52.4 percent, the residential sector is the biggest consumer of electricity in the ESCWA region, nearly double the amount consumed by the industrial sector.
Gauging the severity of past and future trends of power consumption are not so clear-cut as the figures might suggest, according to Heghazi. "The increase in carbon dioxide to GDP ratio in the ESCWA region could be seen as a blessing or a curse," said Heghazi. "It suggests that energy consumption is increasing to meet the needs of the population. At the same time, it could also mean gross domestic product is shrinking, mainly due to the drop in oil prices."
The only good news about fuel combustion coming out of the region is the rapid switch to cheap and environmentally friendly natural gas. "In 1998, oil contributed about 56 percent of total energy consumption in the region, while natural gas supplied 41.1 percent, compared to 75 percent and 20 percent in 1975," the report said.
ESCWAís Executive Secretary Mervat Tellawi underlined the need to hold a conference despite the conflict in Afghanistan. The beginning of war in oil-rich Central Asia could have delayed ESCWAís energy committee meeting, which coincides with the conference.
The power struggle in Central Asia may, nonetheless, delay the linking of the ESCWA regionís electrical grids to those of other Asian states.
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