Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Road Less Maintained

One of the first things that struck me when I first arrived to Sumpango was an erosion issue. Maybe it was because weeks before heading to Guatemala my dad and I went backpacking and found ourselves critiquing the trail maintenance every half mile or so (occasionally stopping to play Army Corps of Engineers). Maybe it was the fact that when I got dropped off at my host family’s house we got the rear wheel drive Peace Corps minivan stuck in the mud ruts in the road on the way to my house. We eventually needed assistance from the men driving the 20 ton trucks on either side of us to get out enough to retreat to the last paved corner, leaving me to hoof it the final few blocks. In any case, there is a huge amount of neglect and erosion in the roads on the outskirts of town (where I live) that seemed so unnecessary to my outsider’s eyes. Just an adjustment here to divert the ever present run off from the rain, and voile, problem contained (not solved of course, just hugely improved).

Rains really do a number on this road

Why isn’t this being addressed? When I first arrived in Guatemala I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the highways. Admittedly there are only two paved roads I’ve found in Sumpango, but the majority of streets are made of either adoquines (interlocking paving stones) or cobblestones.

This road leads down from my neighborhood

Is it the tragedy of the commons? Almost certainly. If you check out the litter getting turned up by the erosion it’s clear that this isn’t the only area where that’s the case. But why isn’t the local government maintaining the roads? After all, one of the roles of government is to take care of the tragedy of the commons. Guatemala does have a relatively low tax burden, so maybe there aren’t the funds to get them paved or even to dig a drainage ditch. On the other hand, maybe the people living in this neighborhood just don’t have enough cuello (pull or influence) to make it up the priority list. On a third hand, perhaps the people in the neighborhood don’t even see it as a problem, because their priorities and standards of living go in a different direction. Maybe they worry more about the water getting turned off frequently. Maybe they are more concerned about getting mail service more regularly, or would prefer improved security after dark. It may even be that the culture here deemphasizes expectations of progress and improvement to the point that my asking about it would bring on more confusion than explanations (although in the case of my host family, I doubt it).
There is some construction work to add more adoquines to one road near my home.

This is just one more detail that sticks out to me like a sore thumb, probably because I am still learning to see the full picture. I feel like the proverbial blind man with only one part of an elephant within reach.
This road is a little further out of town than my place, and has eroded until the water pipe leading to the neighborhood is exposed.  Four wheel drive is definitely required to make it through this beauty.

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