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From India to Yemen: Blackouts, Heat Waves and Civil Unrest

Water_reservoir,_yemenTwo stories of blackouts this week filled the international headlines: one from India and another from Yemen. Located over two thousand miles away from each other, the two cases share a few characteristics: the respective governments’ inability to provide a steady power supply to their citizens, climate and water stress, and serious public discontent as a result.

In India, the situation involves the government of Uttar Pradesh’s inability to provide reliable energy during an extreme weather event. In Yemen, the government has been unable protect the power supply from being targeted by non-state actors, resulting in blackouts and an unhappy public in a place that is already plagued by severe water and food insecurity. In both examples, a fragile power infrastructure, and climate and water-related stresses, have contributed to civil unrest.

As reported by Al Jazerra on June 8th 2014, in an article titled “Heatwave triggers riots in northern India:”

Thousands of people enraged by blackouts rioted on Friday in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, setting fire to substations and taking power company officials hostage. Power cuts have plagued the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh over the past few days, triggered by the extreme heat….Recent temperatures have soared to 47C, which has led to a dramatic spike in the demand for power, from 8,000 megawatts to 11,000 megawatts. The resulting blackouts have shut down air conditioning units and water pumps. Thousands of people stormed an electricity substation on Friday near the state capital of Lucknow, ransacking offices and taking several workers hostage. The ordeal ended after 18 hours when police intervened.

In Yemen, as reported by Farsnews on June 10th, “Yemen in Total Blackout after Power Lines Sabotaged

 “The act of sabotage at Kilometer 78 (48 miles East of Sanaa) suspended the entire national power and energy grid, including at Marib’s gas plant, and cut power in all provinces,” a ministry spokesman was quoted by the defense ministry news website 26sep.net as saying, AFP reported…Attacks on power lines in Yemen are common and are often launched by heavily armed tribesmen as a lever to press for the release of jailed relatives or to support other demands….The absence of reliable electricity supplies further complicates the lives of Yemenis, who already suffer water and food shortages. Sanaa residents have also faced severe fuel shortages for weeks, with motorists having to queue for hours at petrol stations.

These are just two examples. The potential for blackouts due to weather conditions is something that many countries, including the United States and many nations in Europe, have faced – and that all nations are likely to face in the future. These Yemen and India cases make it clear that lack of access to reliable energy sources, especially when it limits access to water, and especially during extremely hot days, does not make people happy (and can weaken public trust in governments). It will be vital that our energy sources are developed in a way that is both resilient to climatic variability, and resilient to targeted disruptions.


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