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CNN Today

Power Shortages Way of Life for Yugoslavia

Aired December 28, 2000 - 1:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Power shortages are a way of life in Yugoslavia because of a crumbling infrastructure. Now, with the onset of winter, officials are scrambling for solutions there.

CNN Belgrade bureau chief Alessio Vinci has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN BELGRADE BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): It may not be noticeable in downtown Belgrade, but some experts say Serbia is facing a catastrophic shortage of electricity. In recent days, at any given moment, 1/3 of Belgrade is without electricity, as the power company is enforcing regular power cuts, sometimes for more than 12 hours a day.

In the rest of the country, the situation is even worse. Motorists have been asked to drive carefully, as many traffic lights don't work. Officials at the power company say they are doing all they can to avoid a total collapse of the power system.

DRAGAN KARANOVIC, ESP STATE POWER COMPANY (through translator): We are now switching off from the power grid, all industrial complex, with the exception of hospitals, water companies, bakeries and other vital services, in order to preserve some power and avoid a total collapse.

VINCI: The winter has been mild so far, but lasting freezing temperatures are expected soon, and the situation could deteriorate, as many people here rely on electric heaters to warm their homes.

But the cold weather is only making a bad situation worse. Hydroelectric plants are in bad need of repair, and an extraordinary dry season emptied their water reservoirs.

(on camera): Most of the blame is put on the old regime of Slobodan Milosevic and international sanctions, which made it hard for his government to import spare parts and maintain power plants, some of which are now beyond repair.

(voice-over): According to some estimates, $1.5 billion are needed to upgrade the existing power grid and up to $5 billion to built a new one. The European Union has already donated $70 million in energy supplies for the winter, and the United States offered $10 million to import electricity, and another $5 million to buy spare parts for aging plants. But experts say the power grid is in such a bad shape that even more money now would not help.

JOVAN MANDIC, FORMER STATE POWER COMPANY ENGINEER (through translator): Even if we had $5 million a day, we would not be able to deliver enough energy through the existing power grid, due to its catastrophically bad condition. We all must accept darkness, be patient until next spring, and start necessary repairs.

VINCI: The new Democratic government is already facing some discontent. Citizens in many parts of Serbia blocked roads. A few even grumbled that, under Milosevic, people at least had power in their homes.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Belgrade.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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