#5 Dominican Republic 2010
What does a declining infrastructure and high food prices have in common?
It has been obvious to me that some things in the DR are worse than they were when I first visited her in 1986. For one, food prices are much higher. This is not much of a problem for tourists, but it is a real difficulty for the locals. Electricity is intermittent, as is water.
When they tried to charge me $7 for a watermelon, I refused. It was higher than in the US. And here in the DR, they grew the melons just down the road. I figured I was getting the white tax. But then I saw locals pay that much for a melon. What was up?
Well, I wanted a COLD watermelon. But with the now erratic electricity, what must every store have?
A generator. These are very expensive in the DR, and the price of diesel fuel is double what it is in the US. Without electricity, the stores will fail. So, priced into the food is the generator.
The water also fails frequently in the DR. So those who can afford it have large water tanks on their roofs. These do not come cheap either. So perhaps the $7 watermelon more accurately reflects the true costs of what it takes to bring that melon to market.
I quickly learned to watch for open sewer covers. These are at least two feet wide, deep, and dangerous holes in the road. In the western DR, many if not most of the sewer covers are missing. Why? People say that metal thieves have stolen them. So there are many gaping holes in the street that can destroy any tire. As I was pedaling along in Santiago, a pickup truck driving next to me full of produce went straight into one, blowing his front tire and most likely damaging his front axle. The explosion really scared me. The driver freaked out, and then swore and swore. Build that into the price of food too.
It does not stop with stealing the sewer covers People then begin filling them with garbage. Within months, these gaping holes are overflowing with fetid garbage. When the rains come, the water flows a foot deep down the middle of the street, carrying the garbage with it. One has the impression that these sewers are not going to be cleaned and repaired any time soon, if ever. Sewers here appear to be tested, and failed, experiments.
In the late 90’s I witnessed the de-infrastructuring of Haiti. Everything with metal in it was stolen. All sewers, water pipes, phone lines, everything. Within ten years, it went back to pre-industrial. And it has stayed there since. I dont expect it to ever come back.
What does this have to do with the US? Well, there are numerous studies indicating infrastructure decline in the US. But with the coming financial crisis and inability to fund any new projects, can we expect a social tax upon everyone because of infrastructure failure? We should know, within 20 years.