Bangladesh suffers long power cuts amid worst heatwave in decades | Energy News

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Abdur Rahman nearly fainted while pulling a rickshaw under the scorching sun in the Bangladeshi capital. “It is impossible to continue doing this in such weather,” he told Al Jazeera.

For the past few weeks, the Dhaka slum where Rahman lives has had almost no electricity at night.

“After a hard and tiring day, I usually take a short nap. Now my sleep is interrupted without the fan. I woke up several times, drenched in sweat,” he said.

paralyze power crisis added to Bangladesh’s misery as they reeled under the country’s longest heatwave in decades.

The government closed tens of thousands of primary and secondary schools this week as temperatures rose to more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in Dhaka. Other cities like Rangpur recorded a high of 41 degrees Celsius – the highest since 1958.

heat wave in Bangladesh
Children cool off on the Buriganga River in Dhaka [Munir uz Zaman/AFP]

Officials at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department say they have not seen such a prolonged heatwave since the country gained independence in 1971.

Earlier this week, operations at Bangladesh’s largest power plant were suspended as the government was unable to import fuel due to a drop in foreign exchange reserves and the Bangladeshi taka depreciating, depreciating about 25% against the dong. US dollars last year.

Freelance graphic designer Julfiqar Ali decided to move from Dhaka to Rangpur in northern Bangladesh four years ago not only to avoid the skyrocketing cost of living in the capital, but also out of a desire to return to a similar peace. against his sleepy homeland.

“I work online and mainly take orders from the US and European customers. So it doesn’t matter where I work as long as I have stable electricity and internet,” Ali told Al Jazeera. “And Rangpur has both, so it was easy for me to move there from Dhaka.”

However, in the past few months, Ali has rescinded his decision. Electricity in Rangpur is not stable, so many of his projects are late.

“The electricity doesn’t stay at a level that lasts even for two to three hours, and when the power goes out, it lasts. Overall, we are getting up to eight to nine hours of electricity per day. I simply cannot work in this situation,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

Bangladesh electricity crisis
A mobile phone salesman works in the dark at a shopping mall in Dhaka [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

No immediate rest

Officials say the power crisis is likely to linger and possibly even worsen as a result of the financial crisis.

According to the Bank of Bangladesh, the country’s foreign exchange reserves fell below $30 billion for the first time in seven years. That was $46 billion a year ago.

The closure of the 1320 MW Payra power plant, the country’s largest power plant, due to a coal shortage only exacerbated the crisis.

Despite the government’s assurances that the plant will be operational by the end of this month, a top official at the company that operates the plant, Northwest Power Generation Company (NWPGC), who requested anonymity, said. to Al Jazeera that it is “very unlikely”.

At least 53 of the country’s 153 power plants have been closed the past few weeks for maintenance or lack of fuel due to lack of dollars, data from Bangladesh’s state-owned Grid Company shows.

heat wave in Bangladesh
People get drinking water from roadside faucets during the nationwide heat wave in Dhaka [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

The data shows that only 49 power plants are operating at full capacity while the remaining 51 are operating at half capacity due to lack of fuel.

As a result, the South Asian nation of 170 million is facing an unprecedented reduction in load of about 2,500 megawatts, about the same output it produced in the late 1990s.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday acknowledged people’s suffering due to power cuts and said the intense heat wave had only made the situation worse.

“Who would have thought that the temperature would reach 41 degrees?” she told of a meeting arranged by the ruling Awami League party.

Hasina, who is also the country’s power and energy minister, said her government has signed agreements with Qatar and Oman to buy fuel and has taken measures to import more coal.

“You have to be frugal in your electricity usage. We are not alone. The whole world is facing a fuel crisis because of the Russia-Ukraine war,” she said.

heat wave in Bangladesh
Officials say the heat wave is likely to continue for the next few days [Monirul Alam/EPA]

‘It just got worse’

Industries in Bangladesh, including the country’s vital ready-to-wear (RMG) sector, which accounts for more than 80% of exports, have been hit hard by the blackout.

Factory owners say the crisis has increased production costs and forced them to cut or delay output.

Sazzad Hossain, who owns an RMG company, told Al Jazeera that machines in his factory were silent for hours due to frequent power cuts.

“We are running on deadlines for deliveries, and if we miss any shipments, buyers won’t pay us,” he said.

Hossain said he was forced to choose a more expensive alternative to meet delivery deadlines: charter a flight and send them by air.

“This leaves no profit and sometimes even loss. It essentially limits our export earnings, which will only exacerbate the ongoing dollar crisis,” he said.

heat wave in Bangladesh
A man rides a bicycle on a hot day near Dhaka University in Dhaka [Monirul Alam/EPA]

Shamsul Alam, energy advisor to the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), said the electricity crisis will not be resolved in the near future.

He told Al Jazeera: “The government has been saying this for a year but the reality is that it has only gotten worse.

Mr. Alam said the electricity crisis was not only caused by the Ukraine war but also by inadequacies in the government’s energy policy.

“We have put too many eggs in one basket because our electricity production relies heavily on natural gas,” he said, noting that at least 52% of the country’s electricity is produced by gas. natural burning.

“Reserves at gas fields are dwindling and the government, instead of focusing on exploring new gas fields, has opted for costly LNG imports,” he said.

Alam said dependence on LNG is dangerous because events like war could disrupt its market and send its price soaring.

“Our government should choose a better energy mix to reduce dependence on a single fuel,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Rangpur, graphic designer Ali didn’t get immediate relief.

“The power cut not only affects my work, but also affects my health. Because of the high temperature, I feel tired all day. And I can’t cool off by turning on the fan,” he said.

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