Albanians pray for rain to see light

TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania is struggling to cope with the worst power shortages in its history, brought on by drought, booming consumption and decades-long neglect of the crumbling electricity infrastructure. Eighteen-hour blackouts have shocked citizens, especially in the capital Tirana, where cooking is a struggle, afternoon school lessons are canceled and the hum of generators rises over the music from cafes. Power cuts have been common since communism collapsed in 1991 and the antiquated grid has struggled to cope with ever rising demand, but the current outages are exceptional. At night, street lamps are switched off and neon signs are the only illumination. A government officials said they too may soon be extinguished, leaving the capital in darkness. Manufacturers said they had resorted to diesel-powered generators, but the higher production costs were hurting Albanian exports. No new power plants have been built in 25 years, making Albania the most import-dependent country in the region for electricity. The crisis has turned into a political blame game, with Prime Minister Sali Berisha accusing the former Socialist government of sabotage by not buying power on time. Albania uses 18.5 million kwh of electricity a day. Its communist-era power stations supply 12.5 million kwh, rainfall permitting, and another 6 million are imported. State power utility KESH said the good news was that the decline of water levels in reservoirs had slowed, boosting prospects for hydro-electric generation. At the main hydroelectric plant in the north, the water level was 8 meters above the point at which power generation ceases. With the country praying for rain, the weather center said it could not give a forecast as it had no power for its instruments.

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