Friday, November 20, 2009

The Supply of Water in Metropolis 2: Supply Harder

Superman #692 by James Robinson and Fernando Dagnino (2009)

Recently, we posted about the current state of disarray in Metropolis following a disastrous attack that left the city's sewer system virtually irreparable. Specifically, we had argued that the massive wave of dehydration, thirst, and overall panic was likely exaggerated. Since then, a loyal reader has written a wonderful response, arguing that the effects might have been more accurate than I had imagined and using post-Katrina New Orleans as a comparison.

Also when looking at New Orleans we can see how politics and social issues impacted humanitarian response, but the ShadowBanker's analysis of what happened in Metropolis is presented in an apolitical or asocietal manner. In the DC Universe, cities, states, and governments may act apolitically or altruistically, but water governance in the north and south cannot be seen as separated from its political, historical, cultural context.

Indeed this is true and I did leave out the political elements in my analysis. The catastrophe in New Orleans was criticized not only for lack of adequate preparation, but also for government mismanagement after the fact. This raises the question of how effective governments really are in dealing with crises like these. Regarding disaster relief, the National Response Plan dictated that local governments have to first exhaust all of their resources before the feds step in with the big guns. Obviously for something like Katrina, this should have happened much sooner. Many also alleged that racism/socioeconomic status was a significant cause of the delayed government response, given that pre-Katrina New Orleans was composed of about 60% African-Americans.

Whether this is true or not: beats me. However, Metropolis' situation is different from New Orleans for several reasons:

1) Metropolis is likely a much wealthier city than New Orleans. Not to mention it is used to dealing with crises way worse than this on a near-weekly basis. Preparation-wise, I think Metropolis ought to know what its doing by now.

It's also not just that the government has more resources, but its people sort of do too. A quick run on the 2005 Current Population Survey (which reports data for 2004--before Katrina), shows that median household income in New York State in 2004 was about $40,000 and the mean was about $60,000. In Louisiana, the median was about $33,000 and the mean was about $46,000. In New York, about 19% of the population lived below the federal poverty level in 2004 and about 18% lived between 100% and 200% of poverty. In Louisiana, it was 21.3% living below poverty and 23.5% living between 100 and 200% of poverty.

Obviously this is not the best comparison since these are numbers for the entire state and not the cities. If I could run on the cities, I bet there would be much larger distinctions. Second, we have no idea how Metropolis compares to New York City--I'm just guessing. Also, I'm not sure these numbers really had anything to do with anything. Your guess is as good as mine. Here are the graphs:

2) If it was a racism issue that slowed the federal response, then aid would have certainly come quicker to Metropolis. Similarly, using the 2005 CPS, it looks like in New York State, 17% of the population were reported as being African-American In Louisiana, it was about 33%. Again, these are state numbers. But according to this New York City fact sheet from the Census Bureau, it's about 25% in the city. That's much smaller than the 60% or so in New Orleans!

3) Lets' not forget that Metrpolis' problem is exclusively its lack of water. There was no hurricane that devastated the entire city, wiping out homes and displacing families. There's no shortage of food, clothing or shelter. It's water and water alone. I am in no way vindicating the US government, but it had a lot more to do in New Orleans than it would have here in Metropolis.

The post also has this argument:

ShadowBanker talks about 'thugs' supplying water to the city's people for high prices, but small vendors are a very important part of water supply systems. The Asian Development Bank found that in some parts of Manila up to 50% of people rely on informal vendors for water, which means these vendors are filling a massive gap in service provision. Water is often sold at higher prices, and this is a big problem when trying to service the poor, but in some places there may not be another option.

It's funny that he mentioned this because I had just read a post by Tyler Cowen about water in Yemen.

...the market price of water has quadrupled in the past four years, pushing more and more people to drill illegally into rapidly receding aquifers.

Here is the longer (and fascinating) story. Basically the country is running out of water. The article focuses on the fact that half of the Yemeni water supply goes to grow an addictive drug called qat.

Again, though, this is in Manila and in Yemen. I'm not sure if thugs would have their day in Metropolis after some supervillains cleverly destroyed the sewers using nanotechnology.

It's a sad story, but if politics/social issues really were the major cause of delay, then it's very probable that Metropolis would have received considerably better treatment. Anyway, this was a really interesting response. Thank you very much, K. Hamada!


Will said...

Another issue to consider is time of year and whether a drought is hurting the local regions. I would imagine that a lot of people would be a lot less willing to share with Metropolis if it meant scaling back dramatically water usage in their regions, especially if the water was being used for crops during a key time period (my agriculture skill is low, so I have no idea when water is most needed for crops - I guess I better start grinding agriculture so I can improve the skill). Look at the nasty fights between states and communities in the U.S. over water.

Michael T said...

It is interesting how many genres tackle water shortages:

The James Bond solution. I didn't pay much attention because it was so wretched, but the recent entry in the oeuvre, Quantum of Solace, involved taking over a country's water pipeline and thereby controlling the nation. Of course it was a developing country in the first place so what the dictator planned to extort I have no idea.

The alien solution. Original "V" anyone? I laughed until my sides hurt when it was revealed that the aliens wanted our water. And I thought nothing could make "Mars Needs Women" believable!

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