Eid will not be a festive occasion for thousands of people employed in the marble factories of Swat as they have had no work due to the excessive load-shedding.
Malakand Division is rich in natural resources and houses hundreds of marble factories, most of which are in Buner and Swat districts, and provide a livelihood for thousands of families.
However, prolonged outages lasting over 14 hours almost every day coupled with low voltage have not only affected business in the scenic valley but also left several thousand factory workers jobless as their factories keep shutting down.
“I have not gone to work for the past 40 days because the factory is closed due to load-shedding during work hours,” said Abdullah, a marble factory worker. “My financial situation is so bad that I have gone into debt just to be able to buy food for my family.”
For the factories that still remain open, output is minimal. Zahir and Ijaz employed at the Swat Marble Factory tell The Express Tribune that they spend their working hours waiting for the electricity to be restored. “However, we cannot start our machines even after the power is back because they cannot run on such low voltage,” said Zahir.
With Eidul Fitr one week away, factory workers worry whether they would be able to celebrate it. “I am the only breadwinner in my family. My parents and three children are looking forward to me buying new clothes and shoes for them but I have no money to make that happen,” said Bakth Rawan, another marble factory worker.
From the other side
Factory owners are no better off; with no electricity available to run their machines and workers sitting idle, they suffer millions in losses.
Issa Khan, a marble factory owner in Qambar, said, “This factory is the only source of income for me. With the machines not running and output negligible, I was facing heavy losses and had no choice but to shut it down.”
He added that marble factory owners pay their bills on time but despite that they are still subjected to excessive outages.
A crumbling industry
According to records maintained by the Swat Marble Association, over 3,500 workers are employed in factories in the district.
In 2010, the association’s president, Haji Fazal Manan, told The Express Tribune that 25 to 30 trucks used to travel to other parts of the country supplying marble daily and earning about Rs5 million, however, at the moment the supply has discontinued due to the closure of marble factories.
Large reserves of high-quality white and green marble are located in Saidu Sharif, Spal Bandai, Khadag, Ghaligay, Parrai, Malam Jabba and Ghakhi Kandaw. Swati marble is considered to be more durable and lustrous than the marble found in other parts of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.