Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Friday, March 7, 2008

Paying for hot water... with your life.

My HP 1315 All-in-one scanner stopped working (some kind of short-circuit giving me an "overcurrent" message on the USB port; caveat emptor, avoid HP scanner/printers like the plague!) but this article from page two in the Wednesday January 23, 2008 edition of "The Egyptian Gazette" is too important to our goal of providing solar hot water to Egypt not to type it all in here by hand (since only the front page is available online).

The story reads as follows:

Heavier on the pocket, lighter on the gas

Mohamed Tharwat
Special to The Gazette

SEVERAL governates are facing problems with gas cylinders. What makes the situation worse is that we are now in the throes of a very cold winter.

The price of a cylinder has risen to LE20 ($3.60) in Luxor, about 430 miles south of Cairo, and el-Qalubiya 12 miles north of Cairo. The cylinders also weigh less than usual, while some cylinders made in China are malfunctioning, which is obviously extremely dangerous.

Natural gas has not been connected to all governorates and most Egyptians rely heavily on gas cylinders for cooking and heating. The official price for a subsidised gas cylinder is LE2.50 (45 cents) from the warehouse but, due to the many intermediate traders, they cost the consumer from LE10 to LE20.

Although natural gas is available in most districts of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, low-income classes still suffer from the high price of the cylinders and the fact that they sometimes leak, causing terrible accidents, in many cases fatal.

Fathiya Abdel Aal, a nurse, describes the cylinders as time bombs, adding that she's recently bought seven cylinders that have all malfunctioned.

Galal Hamed, a civil servant, syas that a cylider costs more than LE10 and that a number of accidents in his district have claimed the lives of innocent citizens, but officials have done nothing.

Metwalli Ali, an accountant, asked a cylinder warehouse owner why the cylinders were malfunctioning. He told him because they are imported from China and that it is the regulators on the cylinders that malfunction. He also admitted that the quantity of gas has decreased markedly, while the prices have increased.

Mahmoud Abdel Halim, Director for Supply in the coastal city of Alexandria, says that his staff visit the warehouses everyday, in order to check on the safety of the cylinders and measure the quantity of gas.

Samir Youssef, the Governor of Aswan, about 720 miles south of Cairo, has asked the municipalities and NGOs to distribute cylinders, pointing out that the Governorate itself has recently increased the number of cylinders available each day from 24,000 to 27,000. Another problem is that there's always a mad bundle for cylinders when the warehouses open every morning.

Refaat Abdallah, who works for the municipality, accuses the Gas Company of deliberately reducin the quantitites, thereby wasting LE52 million of the monthly State subsidies on the cylinders. He has demanded an investigation into the matter.

Despite the presence of a gas factory in Luxor, a cylinder there costs LE20 amid widespread popular discontent and official apathy.

Salah el-Awamy and Mamdouh Aboul Wafa, members of the People's Committee against Corruption inLuxor, say the crisis is getting worse because much of the gas that it bottled at the factory ends up in the cities of Esna and Armant, without approval from the city officials and local councils.

Back to Grater Cairo, where black market traders in el-Qaliubiya have put up their prices to LE15, despite the availability of cylinders, as natural gas has become accessible in the cities of Shubra el-Kheima and Benha.

Shehata Abu Shoeir, a member of the municipality, blames the dealers for this price rise, as they take their quota of cylinders from the warehousers and sell them on to the public for up to LE15.

Mohamed Mourad, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Supply and Home Trade, said in press remarks that there was not a crisis, stating that the Directorate had been meeting its quotas for the warehouses.

"But the warehouses refuse to take their whole quotas, claiming that there is a lack of demand, which refutes the existence of a crisis," he argued.

No crisis? Lack of demand? My dissertation refutes the existence of a lack of demand, and refutes the notion that there is no crisis. Let us, for the moment, discount the danger of using the gas cylinders, whereby the unlucky pay for heating with their lives. Let us consider first only price.

When I left Cairo the last time in February, gas cylinder prices in Darb El Ahmar and Manshiyat Nasser were hovering around LE7 and most families were using 2 bottles per month for heating water. A price hike that doubles or triples this price, they told me, puts them in a terrible financial position, since the average teachers salary is 300 LE per month (about 50 dollars -- per month! Imagine). When heating water for bathing costs around 15 LE per month, you are talking about 1/20th of your salary, or roughly a day or two of work, just to pay for water heating. Double that to 30 or 40 LE per month (when the price is at 15 or 20 LE per cylinder, as in Luxor) and you are now spending 1/10 of your salary (now 2 to 4 days) just for heating water.

And 300 LE is considered a GOOD SALARY! Here is another Egyptian Gazzette article that comments on the matter:

The poor grow poorer

Mohssen Arishie Staff reporter
March 7, 2008

Millions of Egyptian families are angry with the Government. Their anger has been stoked by a recent report from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS),

which says that families are only poor if their monthly salary does not exceed LE166 (about $30). Poor families protest that the CAPMAS' miserable findings will encourage the Government to stubbornly refuse to augment their wages. What has added to their angry is the fact that human development experts say that families are poor if their monthly salary is no more than LE585 (about $105) per month. In fact, these experts say that, with LE585, the average housewife would struggle to buy what she needs for just one week, let alone a month.

School fees are a constant nightmare for these families, while, if one of their members falls sick and has to see a doctor urgently, it's a terrible financial crisis. As far as health services are concerned, places of worship, whether for Muslims or Christians, are very popular with poor people, because mosques and churches often have clinics attached to them, where the medical treatment is very cheap.

The sad report from CAPMAS is borne out in reality. For example, an employee who's been working for the Ministry of Education for more than 13 years says that he only earns LE500 per month. The employee, married with three children, adds that his family's economic prospects have crumbled because his wife, a graduate of a technical secondary commercial school, cannot find a job. "We have to survive on LE500 a month," says the employee asking not to be identified. He adds that he and his family are on the verge collapse, given the alarming price rises. "I'm ashamed and embarrassed to say that my mother has to share her pension with me and my brothers."

One of his brothers, who is also a civil servant, has to work nights as a security guard in a private company to augment his tiny income. "This traumatises his family, as it means his children only see him once a week," he notes. "We wake up every morning only to discover a new price increase. Our life has become a nightmare. We can only buy our children new clothes once a year from a cheap downtown market.” Egyptians have been hit by successive waves of price rises over recent years, a situation that has triggered a series of labour strikes for higher wages."

Now let's turn our attention from the financial crisis surrounding water heating and look at the health risks.

In another post I will talk about what our survey has revealed about "perceptions of danger". Here we only want to consider empirical evidence from two questions we posed the families in our sample:

8.1 Have you experienced any dangerous health or safety issues in the past 12 months in this dwelling?

8.2 If Yes, what was the source of this danger?
1. Fire/Burning
2. Infrastructure problem (walls, collapse of roof, stairs)
3. Sewage
4. Other

We limited our question to the past year to get a conservative estimate of problems, reasoning that in a sample of our size, if problems were extant they would show up within a year. One could extend this research and get a sense of dangers over the past several years, but we didn't want memory biases conflating or deflating danger. Most people can recall the source of danger within the last 12 months fairly accurately.

Broken down now by heater type and danger type we get the following information:

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