The parliamentarian elections took place on March 7th 2010 and there is still no government that has been put in place. However, while lacking a government does not seem to bother the Iraqis, lacking reliable electricity supply disturbs them.
Iraqis did not demonstrate in the streets on Saturday June 19th 2010 in an attempt to cash their votes. Iraqis demonstrated in the streets for another reason, a rather simple reason. Thousands of Iraqis took over the streets of Basra (393 miles south of Baghdad) due to lack of reliable electricity supplies.
The weather in Basra is unbearable during the summer. The temperature can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity up to 14%. Lacking electricity in such weather is hazardous. Basra receives 1-8 hours of electricity per day, which means people of Basra lack electricity supplies for more than 16 hours per day. What do they do for the rest of the day? How can they sleep, eat, or work? People buy electricity from a local supplier. For example, a fan, a light, and a TV can cost up to US$50 or more per month. US$50 does not sound like much here in the US. However, it is the monthly salary for an entry-level position in Iraq. Moreover, the ceiling fan, which most Iraqis own, does not help much in this weather, since it only circulates the blistering heat.
Why now? Lacking electricity was an issue even under Saddam and through the years from 2003-2010—what has happened in Basra that caused people to take to the streets on Sunday?
Basra has completely lacked electricity since Wednesday June 16th 2010, because a storm has collapsed the three supplying towers and four transmit cables that distribute electricity to various neighborhoods in Basra.
The Governorate Council of Basra contacted the Ministry of Electricity to increase the electricity quota of Basra from 650 to 950 Megawatt in order to supply Basra with power for 12 hours per day. The Ministry did not approve council’s demand. In order to fulfill the demand, the Ministry of Electricity would need to cut down the quota of other governorates to increase supply to Basra, and all other governorates refused. Other governorates do not want to suffer in order to help; in fact, they too want to increase their quota of electricity. Thus, on Saturday, 19th of June the people of Basra demonstrated saying, “Today, we are demonstrating, tomorrow we will strike, and then we will rebel.”
The demonstrators threw rocks at the governor’s office and clashed with the local police forces. The police forces opened fire on the demonstrators and killed one person: Haider Salman Dawoud, now known as the Victim of Lack of Electricity. Three thousand people attended his funeral and saw him to his last resting place. Many believe that the Sadrists orchestrated the demonstrations and that they paid the demonstrators to take the streets, and perhaps they did. However, the demonstrators had a strong motive to demonstrate. They had an issue to demonstrate. Had Basra enjoyed a reliable supply of electricity, would the demonstrators have had a case? I do not think so. It is easy to mobilize people around their frustration and anger.
The case study of Basra fits the literature on competition over a scarce resource, which resulted in a violent conflict. Other governorates refused to share their limited electricity with Basra rather than trying to help.
The most important lesson learned is that providing basic environmental services is vital to stabilizing conflict zones, perhaps more important than holding elections.
Providing the basic environmental services brings a sense of security to communities, while lacking these services brings instability. Security in conflict and post-conflict zones has a broader meaning than the mere use of force; in this case, using force against the demonstrators, who acted violently on grievances, did not result in securing Basra. In fact, it resulted in destabilizing Basra.
I think environmental security is not only about climate change. Environmental security is about the ways that lacking basic environmental services in fragile states can trigger or escalate a violent conflict.
Environmental security is a wide concept that includes examining the ill-designed or limited implementation of environmental policies that result in depriving the majority of the population of access to environmental resources and causing them to act violently over their deprivation.
Environmental security is about the present not only the future.
On the practical side, I think “localizing electricity” is an option that's worth examining. By localizing electricity I mean, the local administration within each district will be responsible for providing electricity for its residents.
The local administration can address the needs and issues within its district effectively and efficiently. The local administration is in touch with those needs and issues on a daily basis. While, the federal agency can still offer an overall guidance, training, and funding, the local administration will provide and maintain electricity.
I think the U.S. can invest in building the capacity of the local administrations to provide basic services. I think this investment would result in less attacks against the U.S soldiers.
Many insurgency groups are utilizing the daily frustration as a recruitment tactic. The U.S. can defuse this tactic by building the capacity of the local administrations to provide these services.
To watch the demonstration click on the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMCmahwG8l4