Snow falls on Erbil, January 2017. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – As winter approaches, prices of home heating oil are rising in the Kurdistan Region amid concerns about a lengthy blockade imposed by Baghdad in response to the independence referendum and an end to the sale of subsidized fuel through the food ration program.
Under Iraq’s food ration program, every family is entitled to two or three barrels of oil per year at a reduced price. In the Kurdistan Region, this was distributed by the Ministry of Natural Resources. As the weather cooled, the front of every food ration office would look like a barrel market, packed with people bringing their empty barrels to be filled.
But for the past two years, the oil program has stopped, hitting the Kurdistan population hard, especially those in Duhok and Erbil.
Last year, Sulaimani received some oil from Baghdad, “but it is unlikely that Baghdad will send us oil this year,” Dr. Ghalib Mohammed Ali, the head of the natural resources committee at Sulaimani’s provincial council, told Rudaw.
A food ration agent working near Erbil, Khurshid Najmadin, said they have not received any information about oil deliveries for this years.
No oil rations coupled with Iran following Baghdad’s call to limit oil trade with the Kurdistan Region, has led to fears there may not be enough oil this year, even on the black market.
“Demand on oil increases and its prices change slightly every year when the weather conditions change. This year oil prices have risen even more with Iraq and Iran blocking the flow of oil” to the Kurdistan Region, Rizgar Karim, a businessman working in Erbil’s oil market told Rudaw.
The price of one barrel of oil has climbed from 70,000 or 80,000 Iraqi dinars (IQD, $60-$69) to between 135,000 and 145,000 IQD ($115-$124) before the September 25 vote.
Prices peaked at 175,000 IQD ($150) when Iraq tightened the border ports after the vote and Iran blocked Kurdistan from importing oil, but have since fallen to around 165,000 IQD ($142).
Karim has been working in the fuel business for 23 years. He thinks that if Iran and Iraq continue blocking oil imports to the Kurdistan Region and if the government doesn’t supply oil to the people or if a new route is not found to import home heating oil, “the price of one barrel will climb to more than 250,000 IQD ($200) because demand on this oil will increase as the weather changes. And the oil stored in the markets of the Kurdistan Region is not sufficient to account for this increasing demand.”
Anticipating a cold winter, the agriculture ministry is worried about deforestation, if people turn to wood to heat their homes, especially in the mountainous areas where winters can be harsh.
“There is a big danger to the forests because of not distributing fuel, especially in the towns and villages located in mountainous areas. Some people might resort to cutting trees to warm themselves up. That is why we wrote a letter to Council of Ministers and informed them of this danger so that the council puts pressure on the Ministry of Natural Resources to try to distribute oil as soon as possible,” Dildar Abdullah Malazada, director of the forests at the ministry of agriculture and water resources, told Rudaw.