Tough Time In Manaus: The Dry Season

Mario Cohn-Haft - November 4, 1997

    The most conspicuous problem around here is the energy crisis. After a deceptively comforting lull in September, July and August’s electricity rationing is back with a vengeance. In the summer, the problem was old and faulty generators. Now we’re told it’s because the river for the city’s hydroelectric plant is unusually dry, and the water level there (on the Rio Uatuma) continues to drop 15 cm/day. But everybody knows that, with or without an exceptionally dry summer, Manaus couldn’t continue to grow indefinitely without an accompaniment in energy production. So now the power goes out 3 times a day for 3 hours each time. More or less. In fact, it works sort of like some kind of ancient Chinese torture. The timing keeps changing. You never really know when the lights’ll go out where or for how long.

Actually, because I’m writing this in dribbles over a period of weeks, the scenario has changed a bit. First of all, the rationing has become more predictable. The newspaper now announces the times that each part of town will be without electricity. It’s more or less accurate. The Balbina hydroelectric dam has been de-activated and is virtually completely dry. Word is that 2 private energy companies will begin producing supplementary energy as of late November. Meanwhile, a floating generator is being brought upriver to Manaus.

At least two businesses that I can think of are probably benefiting from the situation. One is the sale of home, gasoline-powered generators, which as you can guess are all the rage, despite outrageous prices. The other would be manufacturers of fax paper. Every time our fax machine goes off and then on again, part of its warm up procedure is to spit out and chop off a 2-inch section of blank fax paper. At three times a day, I will have gone through an entire role of fax paper without receiving a single fax!

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