Lebanon Uses Electricity from Syria to Restore Power to Millions of Refugees

Lebanon started using electricity from across the border in Syria on Thursday, in an unprecedented move for a country that has long relied on the Israeli and a corrupt national grid. As hundreds of…

Lebanon Uses Electricity from Syria to Restore Power to Millions of Refugees

Lebanon started using electricity from across the border in Syria on Thursday, in an unprecedented move for a country that has long relied on the Israeli and a corrupt national grid. As hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrian refugees received their first reprieve from the war as domestic factories reopened in several Lebanese towns, the electricity ministry declared that it had “successfully” restarted the country’s own electricity network after two decades of halting operations.

“Following the connection to the grid in Syria, the expected daily supply of electricity in Lebanon is estimated at 1,640MW,” said Electricity Minister Cesar Abi Khalil. “The grid in Syria will cover the total demand in Lebanon, whether it be on an average or peak basis.”

The French energy company Engie is the main operator of the Syrian grid, which has been under Syrian government control since early last year, giving the company an effective monopoly over electricity in both countries. In a statement, Engie said it was “excited to deliver electricity to Lebanese customers” as Lebanon’s electricity demand soared in the wake of the Syrian government’s retreat from the country, and that the company “looks forward to renewing cooperation with the Lebanese authorities in the future” as negotiations are finalized on a power-sharing agreement between Lebanon and Syria.

Mr. Khalil said the electricity would be available at different hours and had been divided into nine compressors to distribute electricity to the various regions of the country. The biggest provider of electricity will be in the port town of Tyre, which is home to more than 300,000 refugees from Syria, many of whom may have to wait until next year before there is any electricity.

“This will be announced next week, so this weekend people will not have electricity at all,” Mr. Khalil told the Associated Press.

The country has experienced some sunny days and Lebanon will use at least 60 percent of the Damascus electricity to meet the needs of its northern residents. The cost of the electricity, though, is likely to hit Lebanese consumers as the country imports about 4,500 megawatts — or about 40 percent of the national average — from Turkey, meaning increased electricity bills on the part of consumers.

For more and more Syrians have been escaping the civil war into Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, with aid groups warning that a swelling refugee population, currently estimated at 6.4 million, is overwhelming neighboring countries, causing insecurity and disrupting work in cities that are otherwise functioning normally. The return to the region of refugees has been a boon for the economy and civil services, the New York Times noted, but is also likely to strain the systems and infrastructure in host countries.

“The international community has to think much more clearly about the consequences of an unplanned influx of Syrian refugees in Turkey and how it plans to cope. Indeed, these have already emerged,” Eva Bartlett, a senior fellow at the International Crisis Group, said.

Photo credit: Jean Levac/AFP/Getty Images

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