I met The King Of The Generators yesterday. By accident. I was taking pictures of some jigsaw pieces scattered in the dust, when a very well dressed man, followed by his wife and child came and observed. They were destined to remain utterly bemused by why on earth anyone would take pictures of jigsaw pieces scattered in the dust, due to an almost impenetrable language barrier.
I am not sure if they then felt obliged to show me something more worthwhile to photograph, but they firmly ushered me off to a sort of large brick shed by the side of the road, from which wafted a strong whiff of diesel. I couldn’t really see what was inside – where they were clearly indicating I should go, but they seemed friendly and harmless and quite excited about something. So I went.
Inside was a row of 7 very large, very greasy generators. And a diesel soaked man with a big smile. He introduced himself (I think), pointed to the well dressed man and pronounced him “King Of The Generators” – they proceeded to excitedly point out aspects of the generators, which I would very much like to have understood. The only bit I think I got was when they pointed to The King, then the light, which was on, and then gestured broadly around, which I took to mean the King’s generators produce electricity for the whole area.
Why you may wonder is a random man on the street in charge of providing electricity for a neighbourhood? Iraqi Kurdistan has a power shortage issue. Seems odd, given it sits on vast quantities of oil and gas (some 400k+ barrels get pipelined to Turkey every day, even in times of low production – peak production is more like 800k barrels). However, the government is only able to supply citizens with electricity for a certain number of hours per day. I can’t find exact figures for how many hours that is right now, but somewhere between 7 and 12 as far as I can fathom. The rest of the time you have to pay The Generator King (or someone like him), if you want to light your home/heat water/charge stuff/run your fridge or freezer/use a dishwasher/play music/watch TV/blahblahblah outside of these hours. No wonder it was dark from the plane!
There has been at least one power cut every day since I arrived. I suspect these mostly happen in the gap between the government turning their supply off and the minions of the Kings Of The Generators switching on their generators. Mostly because they’re usually short. The longest have been about 15-20minutes so far.
As far as I can make out, this is happening partly as a hangover from Sadam Hussein’s attempts to control the Kurdish region by forcing electricity access to go through Baghdad. The lack of investment in rebuilding supply lines since means the effects of this are still felt. And also the rise in electricity consumption needs within the region, partly due to changing consumer lifestyles and partly due to an influx of 2.8 million internally displaced people fleeing so called Islamic State conflict regions such as Mosul, as well as 1.9 million Syrian refugees.