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An infrastructural event: Making sense of Panama’s drought

Ashley Carse
Department of Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College, Nashville, TN; ashley.carse@vanderbilt.edu

ABSTRACT: Droughts are often characterised as meteorological events: periodic precipitation deficits associated with atmospheric disruption. However, the droughts that concern our societies are typically socioeconomic events: instances in which water demand approaches or exceeds a supply diminished due to low precipitation. This article analyses a 2015-16 drought in Panama, typically among the world’s rainiest countries, to argue that some droughts might also be usefully conceptualised as infrastructural events. This analytic complements research on climatic and socioeconomic dynamics by opening up lines of analysis that reorient some basic understandings of drought events. When, for example, does a drought begin and end? Where do droughts come from? Who and what are (in)visible in drought explanations and responses? The article is organised around three key dimensions of the infrastructural event, each responding to one of the questions above. The first, momentum, makes the case for a deeper temporal understanding of drought that attends to the inertia of water-intensive socio-technical systems. The second, interconnection, examines how linkages between these systems and regional-to-global infrastructure networks can amplify situated water demands. The third, visibility, explores mechanisms through which infrastructures can normalise social and organisational water management practices in ways that shape drought responses.

KEYWORDS: Drought, infrastructure, water politics, scale, Panama