Georgians cope with lights out (Georgia the country) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Georgians cope with lights-out

Independence brought vast energy shortage, nationwide suffering

February 10, 2000


TBILISI, Georgia -- At stylish restaurants along Rustaveli Prospekt, patrons eat by candlelight, usually from necessity. No one can predict when the electricity will disappear, leaving food half-cooked and cooling on the stove.

At schools, children huddle around woodstoves. At a two-century-old hospital, the staff often has to tap into the neighbor's generator to continue surgery.

For nearly a decade, Georgia's 5.4 million residents have stoically endured one of the world's longest-running energy crises, which continually keeps the nation in the dark.

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended energy subsidies from Moscow, contributing to a 2,500-percent increase in natural gas prices while the mounting energy costs plunged the government ever deeper in debt.

Meanwhile, the inefficient government-run energy bureaucracy has done little to maintain the country's deteriorating generation and distribution system.

A subsidiary of AES Corp. of Arlington, Va., took over managing Tbilisi's power distribution last year, but dramatic improvements must await a three-year, $50-million upgrade. And a planned oil pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey eventually is expected to make a big difference.

Georgia itself has oil reserves estimated at 35 million barrels, but electricity is doled out in Tbilisi and other cities under a nationwide rationing system. For two or three hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening, electricity is supposed to flow into homes, but sometimes it goes off unpredictably -- if it arrives at all.

Businesses, public institutions and many of Georgia's more affluent residents rely on generators. Thousands of poor people live in pre-industrial-age conditions.

Across the city, large residential sections are dark at night, with candles or kerosene lamps flickering through windows. Georgians conduct business in coats, gloves and caps.

One might think the hardships would cause an angry political backlash. But most of Tbilisi's residents seem to cope fatalistically. Popular President Eduard Shevardnadze appears headed for re-election in April.

Some people are even making a modest living. Kerosene is sold on virtually every street corner. Vendors sell beech and pine firewood.

But after nearly 10 years of this, the country suffers widespread deforestation.

-- Homer Beanfang (, February 10, 2000

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