By Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 26, 2010 - Members of the 17th Fires Brigade, the provincial reconstruction team and community leaders gathered at the recently refurbished Al Quibla market in Iraq's Basra province Jan. 17 to celebrate the completion of 14 U.S.-funded projects designed to deliver reliable electricity to nearly 15 of the province's districts. "These projects will significantly improve the quality of life for the people in Basra," said Zuhair Shubar, a technical assistant to the governor for administrative affairs. "The Basra area has struggled with the inconsistency of reliable power in the homes of the Basrawi people, and now, thanks to tremendous efforts on both sides, that problem is solved."
That effort has led to 18,000 homes throughout Basra receiving reliable power at a cost of $5.4 million. The provincial reconstruction team provided the funds through the 17th Fires Brigade Commander's Emergency Relief Program.
John Naland, leader of the provincial reconstruction team, was on hand during the ceremony to address the improving conditions of the communities throughout the province.
"Today we celebrate the completion of 14 U.S. government projects that will provide over 137,000 Basra citizens with reliable power and will drastically reduce the amount of power interruptions the city has experienced," he said. "These projects are an example of a partnered effort to meet and address the needs of the people of Basra by the provincial leaders of Basra and [the reconstruction team]."
Decades of neglect of the electrical infrastructure in the city led to blackouts that frustrated Basra residents.
"The end state of the project is a reduction of unscheduled power blackouts in each of the areas," said Army Capt. Alex L. Young, an engineer with 7th Engineer Battalion and project purchasing officer with the provincial reconstruction team. "A serious amount of poles, transformers and wire were required to establish a new, more efficient electrical distribution system for these areas."
The process began with an intense evaluation by the electrical distribution department, pinpointing areas that needed upgrades or, like two areas the project has served, needed to have a network established for the first time.
Young said part of the problem in certain neighborhoods was people using illegal connections, causing systems to overload and fail.
"One of the problems in the areas was that people were trying to get more power out of the transformers than they could handle," Young explained. "These projects create local electrical systems that are capable of distributing higher amounts of electricity with more reliability. They are not physically increasing the amount of electricity in the area, but ensuring that the systems can handle the increasing amounts."
The provincial reconstruction team also recognized the need for a more efficient system of long-term preventive maintenance and has collaborated with the ministry of electricity to develop an operations and maintenance training program.
"Our aim is to jump-start their process of effectively maintaining these networks," Young said. "In the past, they would use these transformers until they were no longer able to operate -- an inefficient and costly practice that we hope to eradicate with proper training and mentorship."
Plans call for development of maintenance centers in the province's Hayyaniyah, Bradia and Hakemeyn districts.
(Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway serves with the 17th Fires Brigade.)