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the broken transformer

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In a recent storm here in Macondo-land, a transformer blew, knocking out power in three provinces in northern Argentina. Yes, three provinces.

Now, the power goes out here all the time. I like to write about it so much (when I have power) that I am starting a new 'power outages' label today. I like to be organized.

Okay, so the power goes out all the time because the power grid is old and inefficient and insufficient.

Three provinces depended on that transformer.

It took more than 3 weeks to fix the transformer. (That is 3 weeks of scorching 40-50° heat, with frequent, sudden blackouts, often lasting 4+ hours at a time.)

Meanwhile, the province pressured the national government to send an additional, new transformer, to improve and increase the capacity of the system. Local newspapers celebrated that it took only 15 days to get it, compared to 4 years for a neighbouring region. Now it's expected to take 'several months' to submit a request for assistance with its installation.

As the new transformer made its way along the highway, we started getting news of sightings: yesterday I saw it just past town X; this afternoon I passed it pulling into the service station...

The final stretch - several kilometres on a side road off the highway. Then a big storm hits and predictably washes out that road, as it gets washed out every time it rains.

Presumably, conditions will allow the coveted part to make it to its destination today. Then we will hope that it eventually gets installed. And that another transformer doesn't blow anytime soon.

This is just a tiny little local anecdote.

For me, it has been a nuisance - it has gotten in the way of my work schedule, made skyping with my family unpredictable, made my kids' heat rashes get worse, and ruined the ice-cream treats at the Monster's friend's birthday party. We have had to dump our dairy products and cook up everything in our freezer.

But we have clean water. Screens on our windows. A pediatrician/close friend on our speed dial. Emergency funds.

In Macondo-like places, it is the way such things affect the marginalized (women, children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the sick), and the way they compound with other such events and circumstances, that poverty becomes entrenched and disasters become particularly devastating.

I started writing this piece before events in Haiti compelled me to give it a more serious tone. To remember the big picture.

Of course this isn't a post about Haiti. (But you should really check out all of these links. And these great ways to give.)

This isn't even a post about the devastating effects of underdevelopment: poverty and hunger and disease and crime and illiteracy.

And it's not about the political and economic forces at play that produce and exacerbate underdevelopment.

It is just an anecdote; I haven't connected all the dots or tried to get at the big picture (as some of the links above do).

But I will say this:

Of course underdevelopment is not the work of the devil. But neither is it the product of bad luck, mere corruption, incompetence or a bad attitude. It is history, complicity, economic and political and military bullying, accumulation by dispossession.

The big picture includes all these dots, not just the devastation and the misery, staggering as it may be.


Deborah said...

Yes. Very nicely put, MiM. I sometimes forget that one of the biggest slices of good luck I have had was being born into a country with a very robust democracy, that holds governments to account.

macondo mama said...

Yes, Deborah, we are so lucky. But though I don't know much about New Zealand, I would also add that you are lucky that global powers have allowed you to choose your governments and not undermined your autonomy or stolen/sabotaged your livelihoods. (I don't know anything about Maori history, bit I imagine there might be some parallels there?).

I think it is important not to lay all of the credit or blame on 'the people', when there are such powerful structural forces at play. Especially when it comes to economic aspects of development, and most especially in weaker, strategic countries and regions.

That's not to say we shouldn't hold our governments to account, though. :)

Mauro Soldan said...

I came across your blog by chance. I'm an Argentine working in the US for a couple of months.
I agree that nothing is so black and white when talking about development-underdevelopment, and it's complex and different in every country.
However, I may be naively optimistic, but I believe that Latin American governments can implement policies that can raise the quality of life of our populations, with a new emphasis on sustainability of resources and preservation of our more laid-back lifestyle. Our countries are relatively underpopulated in relation to our natural resources. I wish this can be more than just a fantasy: a subcontinent with stability, quality of life (doesn't mean material wealth) and respect for nature. A good example for other regions.

macondo mama said...

Mauro - Thanks for visiting and for your comment.

I absolutely agree that there are lots of policies that could go a long way to improving the quality of life. Some of these may just be a matter of political will, but many - especially those with the greatest potential impact, such as redistribution (tax reform) and improving access to essential services - directly affect both local and foreign interests and come up against very powerful resistance.

What kind of policies are you thinking about with respect to natural resources and sustainability? Of course, there is much that could be done, but look at the conflicts around water and gas in Bolivia, oil in Ecuador, gold in Argentina, Chile and Guatemala. It is complicated, to say the least.

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