Thursday, August 02, 2007

Catastrophic System Failures

Modern cities need several types of public utilities and services for them to not degrade into death traps and cesspools. Water, sewage, trash, fuel, and electricity are the most prominent non-security public services and goods. And these distinct systems are highly inter-connected. Water distribution needs fuel and electricity for pumping while the electrical system needs water for steam conversion and cooling of the generators, and fuel for the generators. Trash removal needs fuel for the trucks that are capable of removing a sufficiently high quantity of waste in a short time period.

Significantly degrade one system such as electricity and the other systems will be impacted under the best of circumstances. In Baghdad, the successful attacks on the electrical generation and distribution system of systems has created a combination of demand destruction, black-market activities that profits from system disruption and local work-arounds including private diesel generators. In normal situations, these workarounds and demand destruction have stablized the networks at a much lower level of effectiveness. However not every situation is normal even if it is predictable. The high levels of heat in Baghdad during the summer are completely predictable but the stress on the already broken electrical system is having significant second order impacts as the Guardian and the AP are reporting:

Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water Thursday and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the urban misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of the Baghdad summer.

Residents and city officials said large sections in the west of the capital had been virtually dry for six days because the already strained electricity grid cannot provide sufficient power to run water purification and pumping stations.

The takedown of the electrical system due to a combination of deliberate sabotage, age, and regional re-routing of available power is now taking down the water distribution system. Without clean water, cities of any appreciable size can not function without the frequent occurrance of disease. Baghdad's already low equilibrium of organization most likely will be knocked even lower if water can not be quickly restored.

This second order system disruption feeds into the chaos which promotes people to distrust abstract national governance and loyalty and rely on local organizations based on more visible and available identification.

Many Baghdad residents have banded together to use power from neighborhood generators, but the cost of fuel and therefore electricity is skyrocketing. Diesel fuel was going for nearly $4 a gallon on Thursday.

As expected in the midst of a water shortage, the cost of purified bottled water has shot up 33 percent. A 10-liter bottle now costs $1.60.

``For us, we can buy bottled water. But I'm thinking about the poor who cannot afford to buy clean water,'' said Um Zainab, a 44-year-old homemaker in eastern Baghdad. ``This shows the weakness and the inefficiency of government officials who are good at only one thing - blaming each other for the problems we are face.''

This is not the way to win a counterinsurgency campaign....

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