Before I start the discussion, three points:
Calling the Bush Administration and CENTCOM: Need I add that with the severe electricity shortage, Iraqis are also suffering from a news shortage? And yet this is the very worst time in Iraq for the war on insurgents and al Qaeda to be in a publicity blackout.
Second point: If the water disaster is not halted, Pundita will hold the World Bank personally responsible. Don't tell me I'm being irrational; this is not the time for red tape and reason.
By any which way, get all your power engineers to work on the situation. Forget loan-writing; just ask for volunteers among the engineers to work on the situation. Throw together a Power Point presentation, pile the engineers into an auditorium to watch it, and email the presentation to engineers in the field. The ones with the best ideas -- pass along the ideas and write leave, at full pay, for them to work with Iraqi and US engineers. You know all this can be done within 48 hours.
Third, for readers who are not engineers, is there is anything you can do at this terrible moment? Yes. Pray. If you are against the US presence in Iraq, leave aside for a few moments your stance. Leave aside for a few moments cynicism and naysaying. Be young at heart. Cry out to whatever you believe in to help the Iraqis. Here is Pundita's prayer; I hope you will join me in praying.
O God, please send cloud cover, rain, and cooler temperatures to the regions in Iraq that are suffering the most from the heat at this time.
O God, please open hearts and sharpen minds for dealing with the water disaster in Iraq.
O God, please stop the insurgents and al Qaeda from cutting the electrical power lines going into Baghdad.
O God, bring help to Iraqis who are suffering from water shortage. Please inspire the spirit of cooperation among Iraqi families who are using personal electricity generators.
Thank you, Lord.
Now to a discussion of the humanitarian disaster:
City dwellers going without electricity in 120 degree heat is one thing, but the lack of electricity is also cutting off water supplies and sewage treatment. The untreated sewage is seeping above ground because the pumping stations aren't working, which is contaminating crops. And because of no refrigeration, food is rotting. In the summer heat Iraq's humanitarian crisis has morphed into a disaster.
I understand that there are several complex and converging problems -- some of them long-standing -- causing the electricity shortages. The Associated Press reports that Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of "insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid."
But the problem-solution mindset is the wrong approach in a disaster situation. The US, the Iraqi government, and the international community need to think and act in terms of stopgap measures, not solutions to Iraq's electricity problems.
What's pushed the situation from crisis into the disaster zone is that the large number of Iraqis using small generators has skyrocketed in the summer heat. In Karbala, the price of fuel is nearly $5.00 a gallon, which means that only the wealthiest families can afford to run their generators.
Can't we ask our buddies in the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms to donate fuel to Iraq's worst-hit provinces, at least for the duration of the summer?
If we can get more fuel to the provincial generators, then what about splicing the provinces away from the national grid so Baghdad can get more electricity during the summer? Or what about rationing the number of hours that each region is on the grid, instead of rationing the number of megawatts?
A power engineer would probably tell me that my suggestions are stupid but I'm trying to get the ball rolling. If we can get two rovers onto Mars, we should be able to concoct stopgap measures to deal with Iraq's drinking water shortage, and scare up enough electricity to get the sewage treatment stations working again.
Here is today's AP report, which gives a few details about the water disaster. For engineers who need some background quick on the electricity problems in Iraq, get hold of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City and start reading at Chapter 8 -- page 148.