Qatar

If any event could illustrate the fragility of the BRICS conceit, it is the recent blackout in India, which left as many as 600 million people without power for up to two days. More than anything else, it reveals the sorry state of India’s governance. Yes, there are some extenuating circumstances: an unusually hot and dry monsoon season, which has reduced the available flow in hydroelectric plants while also causing the wealthy to use more power to run their air conditioners, while at the same time farmers are using more power to run pumps bringing up irrigation water from deep wells.

But the real story is under-investment in power generation, in coal production, and in transmission and distribution infrastructure, which in turn are attributable to monopoly pricing, hugely inefficient subsidies, endemic corruption, and political stagnation. The power outage was unique only in its extent and duration. Businesses, households, and public institutions all rely on diesel generators, which to a large extent have gone from a backup to the primary source of electricity, as “load shedding” – the system of rolling blackouts that utilities impose to reduce the strain on an overtaxed network, which often deprive whole areas of a city of power for as much as 14 hours a day. The event, and the global publicity it has attracted, has put a dent in India’s self-image as a nascent superpower. India has nuclear weapons and a space program – it launched a lunar probe in 2008 and has announced plans to send an orbiter to Mars next year – but it can’t keep the lights on. [click to continue…]

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With the exception of Bahrain, where anti-government protests were violently suppressed by the ruling royal family with military support from Saudi Arabia, the kingdoms and sheikhdoms of the Arabian Gulf – in America we refer to it as the Persian Gulf, but that terminology does not sit well with the Arabs – have appeared largely immune from the struggles of the Arab Spring. There have been no street demonstrations, no tear gas, no bullets, rubber or live.

I have just returned from a three-week stay in the Middle East. A few days in Doha, the Qatari capital, to attend the World Petroleum Congress and then the rest of the time in Kuwait, where I am part of a team doing a feasibility study for a technology park. It was my first-ever visit to Qatar and my first to Kuwait since 1986. Doha, flush with money from natural gas, a small low-slung, dun-colored city 20 years ago, now resembles a sci-fi movie set, all futuristic towers glowing with neon, surrounded by the most barren of landscapes. Kuwait City has expanded enormously, and sprawls almost from the Saudi border in the South to the Iraqi frontier in the north. Areas that were empty desert 25 years ago are now studded with new suburbs filled with enormous mansions and shopping malls. Young Kuwaitis zoom around town in Hummers, Range Rovers, and Maseratis or on Japanese super-bikes, stopping to eat at any of a mind-boggling array of Western restaurant chains. Applebee’s, Chili’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s, they are all there. The 1991 Iraqi invasion seems impossibly distant. [click to continue…]

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