Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Econ Report: "Where Did the Watts Go?"

Iraq's energy situation, hanging in the balance.How long does it take you to run a fresh load of laundry? Maybe thirty, forty minutes minutes? And some of us, I suspect, enlist the television to help alleviate laundry-induced boredom, correct? (Guilty as charged right here). Well, since the television is on, you might as well finish watching that favorite show once the laundry's done...and maybe watch another one while you check email and start cooking dinner. Oops, forgot to turn the lights on in the kitchen...

How would you like to be relegated to a certain time of day to complete these activities? Actually, no, wait, that's too easy. How would you like to first have to choose one, and then be relegated to only an hour sometime in the middle of the day to get it done? No good, huh?

Welcome to Baghdad.

In the most recent Iraq Index complied by the Brookings Institution (using data from the State Department), Baghdad only receives 5.6 hours of electricity per day, on average. But that figure is actually deceptively optimistic. The 5.6 hours a day is often haphazardly broken up in a 24 hour time span -- e.g., dinner could be on the stove one minute, and the next, the Hamburger Helper is steadily coming to a cool.

Because of this, a new sound has emerged on the sonic landscape in Baghdad. Given that a sporadic 5.6 hours of electricity per day is less than adequate, Iraqis have turned to self-financed generators to fulfill their electricity needs. In a recent Washington Post article, an Iraqi named Amir Rahim "spends his entire salary [in the summer] -- about $950 a month -- to repair and keep his family's home powered generator running for 14 hours a day -- and that's without air conditioning." So while more than 5.6 hours of electricity per day is attainable, it's extremely costly. And "with monthly incomes in Iraq averaging about $200, most people here have far less power."

One of the primary reasons for the lack of electrical services are the incessant attacks on power grids, a much-noticed consequence of an unnoticed cyclical violence. Let me explain. Needing somewhere to turn when you can't pay for basic services, you look to the insurgent groups who can. They then proceed to attack, with your support, the basic service providers whose initial inefficiency caused you to support the insurgents -- rendering those service providers even less efficient.


The electricity issue connects to a number of bigger problems in Baghdad: it is tied to Iraqi well-being, it is a metric for reconstruction, and it is a factor in creating security. It may be just one of many economic problems that need to be worked out, but being so essential to the everyday mechanics of life, it may also be the most pressing.

But hey, it's a good thing it doesn't occasionally hit 140 degrees there in the summertime, otherwise restoring electricity may be fairly urgent.


Geoff Schaefer said...

Good afternoon EPICsphere. "The Econ Report" is going to be a weekly blog that I will be writing during my tenure here this summer.

My hope for these postings is that it will become a place for serious debate about potential and alternative solutions to these issues.

I am going to purposefully leave out solutions or calls to action, as I want to stimulate a debate - in hopes of creating solutions - within our community first.

I hope this first one will get things going. I look forward to it.

Anonymous said...

i sit in my office freezing half the time because the air conditioning is on too high. i can't even imagine having to deal with 140 degree days with no end in sight.

thanks for bringing this to my attention. now, i'm turing the AC off...

Geoff Schaefer said...

I don't think very many, if any of us here, can speak to 140 degree days. That's impossibly hot. When I get hot here, it's usually around 95 to 100 - add another 40 to 45 on top of that. That's just something you have to experience to know the pain.

And the thing is, even if we could, we would have the pleasure of being able to leave when it became absolutely unbearable. Not only do the Iraqis not have jobs, but they sit around in this all summer.

my2cents said...

Just remember that if you aren't in and out of AC during the day, you become acclamated and learn what to do to live with the heat. After all, AC hasn't always been available and people have lived in the south and gotten by. The problem is that we are spoiled and have forgotten what to do. By all rights, we should be slowing down in the summer but we're so used to going strong all year long, we don't know how to slow down anymore.

Sorry, my point is just that when you live in the Iraqi climate, you learn to live with it! I'm not saying it's not hard but I bet they're better at it than we'll ever be!

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of wimps! Join the Army or Marines!!!

Geoff Schaefer said...

So just because the Iraqis aren't in the Army or Marines they don't deserve to complain about the 140 degree days? Don't forget, a good amount of Iraqis aided our military over there and if it weren't for them, a lot of our missions couldn't have succeeded. Do they at least get to complain about the heat, and the lack of electricity to help them cope with it?

Remember, they had substantially greater amounts of electricity before the invasion, so while they are "used" to the climate, they still had an outlet to escape it within their homes. Now they don't even have that.

I think it's pretty unintelligent to call a whole country wimps. What good does that do them, and where does that get us? The answer to that would be nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Arguing about airconditioning or the lack there of seems a little trival to me. The Iraqi people are living in a country filled with conflict, violence, and life and death issues everyday. These servere conditions are unimaginable, as are the conditions the men and women in the military are facing but at least they have some sort of protection. Calling a group of people wimps is just plain ignorant. I can't speak for all Iraqis, but I can imagine the extremely hot weather being the last thing they're worried about these days.

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - I doubt it's the last thing they're worried about. Whether you're used to the heat or not, it's extremely rough out there. And according to the Brookings Index, most Iraqis still rate electricity amongst their top priorities for reconstruction.

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