x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Heat-stroke cases quadruple as Sharjah power cuts continue

Doctor blames rolling blackouts, and while the emirate's power firm remains silent, angry residents are speaking out.

SHARJAH // A construction worker has died and the number of people being treated in hospital for heat exhaustion has soared to four times the normal level as daily power cuts continue to hit Sharjah. And angry residents yesterday rounded on Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) for its continued silence over the cuts.

Hassan Fawaz, 40, an engineer in Sharjah, said: "We had no power for 13 hours on Tuesday and today still we don't have it from 10am and my count is so far six hours. Don't we have any voice to reach out to the authorities? "All the Sewa public hotlines are not answered and the media is reporting Sewa refused to comment. This is disgusting, demeaning and self-defeating, but they seem to get away with it."

Meanwhile dozens of cases of heat exhaustion are being registered at the Kuwait hospital every day. Forty cases were reported on Tuesday and another 45 had been logged by 3pm yesterday, said Dr Nilova Qureshi, the director of the hospital's emergency department. The figure was four times the average daily number and a direct consequence of the failures, she said. "The power cuts have contributed to the increased heat-stroke cases, as even with the midday break rule workers have not had a cool environment," she said. "One Indian worker, 27 years working in the construction industry, died a few minutes after he had been brought to the emergency department on Tuesday."

Power failures continued throughout the emirate yesterday, with almost the whole of Sharjah city without power by midday. Neighbourhoods including Rolla, Buhaira, al Qassimiya, al Nahda, al Khan and all the industrial areas had no electricity from 11am. Several banks shut at midday, petrol stations closed partly and some office employees were given the day off. Shopping centres such as City Centre and the Mega Mall were full, with long queues of cars seeking access to their air-conditioned interiors as families took refuge from the heat.

"We are not sure how long it's going to take to have regular power again," said Dr Mohammed Khan, who works for a pharmacy in Sharjah. "The emirate has become uninhabitable in summer and it's no use to stay here any more." Dr Khan was taking lunch with his wife and other family members at the KFC restaurant in Sharjah city centre. Mrs Khan had prepared food at home but the family were unable to eat it in the heat and humidity and were forced to go out instead. Other residents demanded that a schedule for the blackouts be announced a day in advance to allow them to prepare. Arafat Mohammed, 35, a resident of Buteena, said rolling blackouts for "two hours a day would be accepted, but that of 10 hours cannot". The power cuts that plagued Sharjah over this year and last have been blamed on a shortage of natural gas and the high cost of diesel replacements. In a recent investigation, The National spoke to engineers and experts, some of them involved with Sewa, who said the cuts last year were the result of a lack of fuel, brought on by the failure of a deal to deliver natural gas. They speculated that this year's cuts were likely to have the same cause, but said the emirate could take advantage of the national grid to request more power from the capital, or order more fuel, such as natural gas. A water engineer, who left Sewa after last year's cuts and is acquainted with the engineers dealing with them, said a deal for the supply of natural gas from a neighbouring country had fallen through, forcing the authority to rely on diesel to generate electricity. Diesel can be up to three times more expensive. With the shortage in natural gas, some generators ground to a halt. Sewa had to rely on rolling blackouts, or "load shedding", it was suggested. On Tuesday, Sewa described the recent failures as not unusual. "They are just ordinary power cuts," a spokesman said. @Email:ykakande@thenational.ae