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.