March 24, 2009

Daily Power Blackouts the Standard Way of Life in Lebanon
Beit Meri, Lebanon

My host tells me that some Lebanese say they're certainly happier than many other countries in the world.

—They get happy when the water works; they get happy when the power works… For sure they've got cause to be happy more often than most.

Inside my host's lovely, large single-room home. Battery backup, bottled water and stonework make it feel like a remote cottage.

The introduction to my host's home yesterday evening involved an overview of switches and precedence protocols the likes of a Frankenstein re-animation film sequence. Outside, the moderately faint humming sound of diesel generators filled the air. Inside, the harsh, pale white-blue glow of energy saving blubs illuminated the room. We were running on battery backup.

Despite nearly two decades passing since the conclusion of the country's great civil war, regular power service has yet to be resorted to any part of the country. From top to bottom, Lebanon's government provides electricity for little more than 15 hours on any given day.

Outages are near random, but often come in a four-hour block, at least twice a day, day and/or night. It's been like this since before the war ended, and much worse between '75 and '90.

I find this consistent level of utility services breakdown absolutely shocking. What's the foundation for any industrialized society these days? Steady access to water, power, and waste management (sewage, garbage collection). In 2009, Lebanon still fails on at least two of these aspects.

A common street sight are power poles with breakers to control the flow of generator power. Little blubs on the breaker box show when the neighborhood has government power, and when it doesn't.

There's perhaps a sort of generator mafia in play in the country, where you pay a stipend to your nearby generator operator, who flips circuit breakers on the streets, granting electricity to the homes that've paid their dues. The alternative would be to live in darkness, or to purchase and maintain your own power source (such as a generator, which is loud and consumes a lot of expensive gasoline, or a battery backup, which needs to have the expensive batteries replaced every so often).

Clothes drying on a generator's exhaust duct.

Given that there's been widespread instability (or total failure) with the public services for nearly 35 years, I suppose it's little surprise to learn that such things are thought of as just a way of in Lebanon—a child of the 70s or later wouldn't know a lifestyle any different. …And perhaps that's why little is being done to rectify the situation.

I asked my educated host if any politician campaigns on the promise to restore consistent power and water services to the country, to which he replied in the negative. Perhaps it's thought unachievable. Perhaps the generator mafias have too much influence. Whatever it is, Lebanon certainly isn't the country of stability most outsiders think it is. This country's multi-decade wounds haven't even come close to healing.


The United States


June 8th, 2009

"…an overview of switches and precedence protocols the likes of a Frankenstein re-animation film sequence" Ha - great metaphor!

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