Electric power crisis worsening in KosovoBy MELISSA EDDY
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia - First came the war, then the winter - leaving the province of Kosovo cold and dark with little electricity.
In the snow-covered capital, Pristina, the standard greeting is: "Do you have power?" and U.N. officials advise residents to huddle together for warmth.
The majority of Pristina's 600,000 or so residents have been receiving electricity for less than six hours a day. Some have gone without for 48 hours in a stretch.
It's a problem that has disrupted regular life in Kosovo, caused much discomfort and posed danger in homes and hospitals alike. Because water is pumped by electricity, the outages have caused pipes to run dry, which in turn has caused shutdowns in the central heating system.
All but emergency surgery has been canceled at the hospital. Without heat, city schools have been forced to close in the afternoons. Only businesses and restaurants that have generators can keep regular hours.
Ljuljeta Shala, 36, a dentist in Pristina, has closed her practice for lack of power. On Saturday, she packed up her belongings and her 14-month-old son, Gon, and headed for Skopje to stay with her mother until the situation improves.
"Every morning I get up, I can see my breath," said Shala. "My child is freezing and he sleeps all the time because it's too cold to get out of bed."
Her husband Skendar, 41, is staying. He went to buy a stove for the living room and a generator to put on the balcony. "The neighbors won't like it," he said, referring to the generator noise, "but I'm beyond caring. We can't live like this."
Earlier in the week, the U.N. mission in Kosovo called an emergency meeting of international and local leaders to try and cope with the situation should it reach crisis proportions.
But nothing is being done. Locals figure it's the United Nations' responsibility to improve the situation, so they wait for the slow-moving wheels of Kosovo's international administration.
The U.N. refugee agency is preparing kits of plastic and wood-burning stoves. More than 30,000 blankets and 60,000 sleeping bags, as well as winter clothing, also have been readied should the situation reach get worse.
"We are encouraging people to congregate in a room," to keep warm, said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Pristina.
Kessler said they were particularly worried about urban areas, where people depend on electricity for heat.
The U.N. mission said Friday it expected the situation to improve over the weekend when another generator unit is expected to go online.
But with just 240 megawatts of electricity available being produced at the power station and arriving from neighboring countries, most residents who depend on electricity to heat their homes get only enough power in the day to keep food and pipes from freezing over as temperatures hover around freezing and often dip below it at night.
Poor maintenance, outdated equipment at the power station and a shortage of fuel have caused the trouble, the U.N. mission has said. Kosovo - and its ethnic Albanian majority - has for years been neglected by Serbia, leading to the poor state of energy generating equipment.
And with its troops out and NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo, Belgrade clearly now has no interest in providing power to the province it has lost all but formally, particularly as it does not have enough energy for residents of Serbia proper.
[URL may be different next day if article is archived]