Monday, March 15, 2010

Blackout in Chile, and The Quake's Lesser-Publicized Victims

Last night, Chile was hit with a rolling blackout that affected nearly the entire country. From about 9 to 11:30 pm, most of the country, all the way from Region III in the north to Region XIV in the far south, was without electricity.

Though it was reported to have been unrelated to last month's powerful earthquake and the series of tremors that have followed in its wake, it was nevertheless a powerful reminder of the serious geographic and infrastructural challenges that Chile faces. Though the same can be said for Latin America as a whole, Chile's position straddling the thin peripice between the massive Andes mountain range and the Pacific Ocean for 2700 miles (4300km) with an average width of 109 miles (or 175 km, making it slimmer on average than my home state of Indiana) only amplify these problems. With only a handful of major electrical arteries to send energy up and down the country, problems in one part of the chain can affect the entire country, as was the case last night.

While having such extensive access to the ocean does have its upsides for international trade, the limits on what kind of internal infrastructure can be built has a serious effect hampering development within the country. Accordingly, it will be important to watch how the serious damage done to the nation's highways, railways, bridges and otherwise will affect the country's economic and social prosperity in the years to come.

Another interesting side note to last night's blackout: after power was restored in Santiago, we were able to listen to Radio Bio Bio in the car, which reported that President Piñera had quickly mobilized the police to take to the streets to prevent looting and other such activity. Clearly Piñera seeks to distinguish himself from former President Bachelet's slow response to mobilize the armed forces in the wake of the earthquake, but nevertheless I don't find an eagerness to use such force as a positive characteristic in a political leader. And with further blackouts to be expected, along with the other challenges of rebuilding to be faced, it will be important to see how this continues to play out...

One final important note tonight: I found this article from the BBC focusing on the plight of the indigenous Mapuche and other overlooked segments of society in the wake of the earthquake to be especially interesting and important. Just as we tend to focus on socio-economic challenges such as poverty and drug abuse in urban communities at the expense of attention paid to these same problems in rural areas, even though they are often even more serious considering the lack of available resources to assist, we must be sure not to overlook rural communities in the wake of disasters like the recent quake. This particular issue is also all the more relevent considering the recent heightening of tensions between the Mapuche community, which has long struggled for autonomy and self-determination, and the Chilean government. Just one more important storyline in the ongoing events here in Chile...

No comments:

Post a Comment