For many Dominicans it’s an everyday situation; you come home at night, turn on the light and… nothing! Across a good stretch of the country, unexpected blackouts —sometimes lasting a long period of time— are an everyday situation.
“I had to work at night to be able to do my job and take care of my family. Sometimes I had to go to other places just to find a bit of light,” said Miurbi Mendoza, a seamstress and resident of Los Mina in the capital Santo Domingo. “I work for hotels and I had to travel all the way over there for up to a month, for an entire fortnight I had to be away from home,” she adds.
Electricity is essential to Mendoza, an entrepreneur with a family to take care of and every blackout threatens her income and her time to take care of her kids.
For 50 years this neighborhood, along with many other communities, has suffered from a highly unreliable electricity supply. They faced a daily struggle to get ahead when faced with power cuts that reduced their opportunities to work and even have drinking water at home.
“In the past, we needed several full water tanks in the house because electricity was just not there, and when it came you were sometimes unable to drink from the tank,” recalls Julia Altagracia de Reyes, a secretary at the Water Network Rehabilitation Works Follow-Up Council in Los Mina.
It’s a trend that sets the Dominican Republic apart from the rest of Latin America, a region with one of the lowest rates of power outages on the planet, according to data from the Global Allianz insurance agency. In fact, with an average of 18 blackouts per month, the Dominican Republic was second to only the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen in terms of blackouts in 2010.
Years of neglect have left the Dominican electricity riddled with inefficiencies. Over two-fifths of all the electricity purchased from generating companies is lost before it reaches the consumer, either due to bad network conditions or the high number of illegal connections between the energy sources and the end users.
The result: ongoing, system-wide blackouts which significantly impact the country’s competitiveness.
In response, the government has invested US$42 million (contributed by the World Bank since 2011) to a project aimed at providing a 24/7 electricity supply to almost 100,000 Dominicans, after rehabilitating 220 miles of power lines. What’s more, every user now has an electricity meter to monitor their personal use and expenses, as well as to help identify leaks within the network.
“The change has been 100 percent positive,” said Reyes. “After 50 years of continual blackouts, shortages and poor management of the electricity supply, we can now rely on it 24/7, which is reflected in the wellbeing of the whole community.”