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Lebanon's electricity network collapsed on Saturday after the two most important power stations ran out of fuel, leaving private generators as the only source of power.
The state-owned electricity company has been providing citizens with just a few hours of power a day for months, but the total collapse of the national grid will compound the misery of those who can’t afford to run generators and had relied on those few hours.
The outage marks the latest milestone in the unraveling of Lebanon, which is undergoing what the World Bank has described as one of the world’s three biggest financial collapses of the past 150 years.
The banking system was the first to implode in 2019, triggering a 90 percent slide in the value of the currency that has left the government unable to afford fuel, food and medicine imports while plunging millions of Lebanese into poverty.
The electricity grid ground to a halt after the country’s two main power stations, Deir Ammar and Zahrani, ran out of diesel fuel, leaving the nationwide network without the minimum amount of power required to sustain it, said Energy Minister Walid Fayyad.
The government is working to secure emergency fuel supplies from other sources, including the army, to bridge the shortfall until a shipment of Iraqi oil due to arrive Saturday night can be offloaded and distributed into the network. At most, he said, the total outage can be expected to last only a couple of days, and he hoped to find a stopgap solution faster.
But the collapse is a reminder of the dire state of Lebanon’s electricity sector, which has been unable to provide 24-hour power for decades. In recent months, its capacity has been further eroded by the lack of money and by corruption, with smugglers diverting state purchases of fuel to sell at a profit in neighboring Syria.
A recent deal struck with Iraq to supply 80,000 tons of fuel a month still falls short of the minimum amount required to ensure a stable grid and at most will be able to keep the power on for about four hours a day, Fayyad said.
Fayyad said Lebanon’s best hope of securing electricity lies in a proposal backed by the United States to import gas from Egypt and electricity from Jordan via Syria with funding from the World Bank. But that could take several months to put in place, and in the meantime, Lebanese can still expect to receive very limited supplies of electricity.
Lebanon will need a lot of goodwill from the world for the gas deal to come through, including funding and an agreement from the United States to waive sanctions on Syria so that the gas can reach Lebanon, Fayyad said.
But if it works, the gas supply will prove cheaper and more efficient than the current system, which relies on pricey fuel imports, enabling a big improvement, he said.