More than Unmet Basic Needs

A tragedy occurred a few days ago in Barinas. Six children died in a fire. The fire was triggered by a short circuit after a service interruption. Typically, after a service interruption voltage surges, which in turn can cause cable insulation to melt and short circuit.

One must ask then, did we do a disservice to provide electricity to this household?

Here is my problem when we see development in terms of Unmet Basic Needs. UBNs try to grasp underdevelopment or poverty via other things that aren’t income. The premise is that you can be filthy rich and have no access to goods and services and yet be condemned to live a miserable life. Or quite the opposite, you can live with nearly no income but all is provided to you by your society, in which you can’t be considered poor.

That all sounds dandy, but when you start looking at the numbers things simply don’t match up.

Chavismo loves to talk about UBNs and Millenium Goals. Why? Well because they have made some progress. My beef is with the goals themselves. The goals are mediocre by any measure. Only a very poor country would see improvements pursuing these goals. The millennium goals are binary. What these goals and the UBNs miss is a fundamental parameter known as ‘quality’.

Unmet Basic Needs. Source INE.
Unmet Basic Needs. Source INE.

For example. For a country country like Venezuela it isn’t enough to send more kids to schools. We need to do that, for sure, but we must also increase the quality of the schools. It isn’t about the children serving time. It is about them learning.

The UBN policy makers say that a nation must strive to provide access to drinking water. So if you connect a reservoir to a home, that’s it. It doesn’t matter that the household gets water once a month for an hour, your mediocre goal is met, don’t bother about anything else. Same goes for electricity.

Is it housing what we need? Then OK, make mediocre codes or simply provide housing that is not even to code and check it off the list. The need is met, right?

In meeting mediocre goals, Venezuelan policy makers have made some progress. Have they achieved development? Not one bit.

As for the question above, a disservice was done to that family. Access to electricity is not enough. Proper household electricity codes and a decent grid are a prerequisite to providing electricity access. A deadly disservice was done to this household. My heartfelt condolences to that family.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in criticizing these goals…