From hospitals to amusement parks, Iranians grapple with surprise power outages

·6-min read

Lifts and amusement park rides grinding to a halt, businesses, and employees left in the dark, hospital equipment stopping suddenly … People around Iran have been experiencing regular power outages since the beginning of May. While the state energy distributor has tried to schedule these outages to align with energy demands, our Observers tell us that power cuts have been more frequent, and lengthier, than planned.

Iranians have been reporting daily, prolonged power cuts since early May, leading to widespread inconveniences and dangerous consequences. People have been left without air conditioning, internet connections, water, and even life-saving medical devices.

The Iran Grid Management Company (IGMC), responsible for electricity provision in Iran, released a timetable for scheduled power outages around the country, which they say have resulted from insufficient energy production.

As Iranian citizens adapt to these inconveniences, the source of the power outages remains unclear. While an IGMC announcement on May 23 cited insufficient energy production levels, energy officials have pointed to several potential causes.

Some referenced energy-intensive Bitcoin farms in Iran, while others blamed global warming for higher temperatures and therefore an increase in energy consumption from air conditioners. Still, others blame a lack of rain, saying that hydroelectric dams are producing less electricity because there is less water.

>> Read more on the Observers: In Iran, power outages reveal the secret business of Chinese bitcoin farms

However, some experts claim that Iran’s outdated electrical infrastructure is unable to keep up with the increasing demands of Iran’s population.

The company created a mobile application and website to inform residents when their areas would be cut off, but according to our Observers around Iran, the outages rarely follow these schedules.

Unplanned and prolonged outages have caused plenty of disruption for most Iranians, who are dealing with high temperatures and the continuing spread of Covid-19. But these power outages have also had serious impacts on peoples’ health and safety.

In this video, filmed May 23 in Bushehr, Iran, an ambulance technician at Persian Gulf Hospital explains that power outages have interrupted refrigeration systems in the morgue: “The temperature of the refrigerator is about 45 degrees. The body has rotted after three days and swelled, it no longer fits in our vehicle.”

'Patients who depend on ventilators or other medical tools can simply die'

Nahid (not her real name) is a doctor in northeastern Iran. She explained the impact of these power outages on medical staff and patients:

The main problem in our hospital is that it becomes a huge oven during these power outages. Our ventilation system also stops, which means that it is easier for coronavirus to spread in the air.

The power outages block our workflow. We can no longer use medical scans or X-ray machines to diagnose problems. We can’t use our computers to connect to our patients’ social security cards or issue prescriptions. When the power comes back on, hundreds of people have to queue in the pharmacies to get their medications. We lost dozens of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine because they went bad after hours without refrigeration.

All the main hospitals have backup generators for essential equipment, but if they don’t kick in during one of these numerous power outages, or even if they turn on just a few minutes late, it can end in a catastrophe. Patients in intensive care units who depend on ventilators or other medical tools can simply die. Last week, we had two elderly patients in the ICU who were on the verge of death, due to the lack of air conditioning and malfunctioning equipment.

This could have been the case in the operating room of a hospital in Isfahan several days ago. When their hospital lost power, the local generator didn’t work in their unit. The surgeons had to continue using only cell phone flashlights to finish the surgery. And the problem doesn’t stop here.

Many Covid-19 patients recuperating at home use small ventilators and don’t have backup generators. They need constant electricity in their homes to survive.

This Tweet posted May 25 shares the story of a young girl who depends on a medical device to breathe. The power outages have caused difficulties for her.

Trapped in lifts, theme park attractions

The unexpected power outages have caused equipment like lifts and amusement park rides to grind to a halt, causing injuries and putting an extra strain on emergency personnel.

Ten children were injured in an amusement park in Semnan, in eastern Iran, on May 22 after a power outage caused them to become trapped in playground equipment.

During a power outage, people were stuck in an attraction at the Chitgar amusement park in Tehran, as seen in this video published on May 24 and shared on Iranian social networks.

Construction workers have also become trapped in precarious situations during power outages.

While Iranian officials have not commented, or provided statistics, on accidents caused by the power outages, local firefighters have provided insight into the situation.

In Mashhad, fire department officials said they performed 180 missions to rescue people trapped in elevators during power outages, in the five-day period between May 19 and 24.

Meanwhile, firefighters in Kermanshah have been carrying out at least 15 elevator rescue missions per day due to the outages. Isfahan firefighters reported saving 100 people stuck in elevators between May 23 and 25.

Without any warning as to when the power may shut off, everyday Iranians are living in a constant state of inconvenience, unsure of when their elevators, lights, air conditioning, water, or internet may turn off.

'No power and no water'

Sadaf (not her real name) is a mother of two living in the north of Tehran:

Less than 10 minutes after the power goes out, my daughter, who is only two years old, cries in desperation. It’s as hot as hell, around 40 degrees or more. I have to take the kids outside to somewhere cool or to a park, and that’s impossible for me, going up and down seven floors with two children.

We wanted to go somewhere else to escape this situation, but everywhere is the same. Everywhere in Iran is stiflingly warm without air conditioning at this time of year.

And we live in a high-rise building: that means no power and no water [Editor’s note: when the power goes out in these buildings, electric water pumps also switch off]. Can you imagine this during a pandemic, with two children?

Remote work put on hold

Working and studying from home during Covid-19 have also been impacted by the power cuts. Paniz (not her real name), a marketing professional for a start-up in Tehran, explains:

Working together has become literally impossible. Due to Covid-19, we mostly work at home, but as soon as some of us on the team have power, the others lose it. And when we lose power, we lose our WiFi connection. The connection on our phones, if it works at all, is uselessly slow.

Last Sunday, we were supposed to release a huge PR campaign, after months of work, but everything went south: we lost power in our computers at work. Our time and money went up in smoke.

'As a teacher, I have no idea what will happen when a student loses power during the exam'

Farnoush (not her real name) is a teacher in Shiraz:

It’s a catastrophic situation. Neither I nor any of my students have access to online classes during the outages. National education is nonexistent. However, what scares me, even more, is that students all over the country will have their final exams soon. As a teacher, I have no idea what will happen when a student loses power during the exam and can’t finish it in time. I’m in total panic as a teacher, may God help the children.

Iran’s power grid has a capacity of around 85,000 megawatts. However, recent energy demand in Iran has exceeded this demand by close to 9,000 megawatts. When demand surpasses capacity, electricity distributors cut off the power supply.

In the meantime, Iranian officials have asked citizens to limit their electricity consumption as much as possible to prevent extended blackouts.