Slums powerless to stop unequal load-shedding

Dwellers face issues like sleep deprivation and problems in completing day-to-day tasks, study reveals 


Mariam Shafqat June 20, 2017
PHOTO: APP

LAHORE: Eliminating inequality is an uphill task to say the least and these circumstances are most apparent when it comes to power load-shedding. Underprivileged areas are the ones suffering through the most hours without electricity during the current power crisis.

This was the gist of a study conducted by an assistant professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. According to Assistant Professor of Economics Hadia Majid, there is stark variation in the length and frequency of power outages in underprivileged and posh areas.

Her research points to a June 2013 Supreme Court ruling which made it mandatory for authorities to carry out equal hours of load-shedding in rural and urban areas, but there is yet to be complete compliance.

According to the key findings of the study titled Power cuts: Is load shared equally? - Evidence from the Slums of Lahore, the gap between rural and urban areas may have decreased over time, but a variation in outages still exists. Even in Lahore city itself, the power cuts vary depending on the area of residence.

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Furthermore, one in five respondents of the survey reported ‘lower on-the-job productivity’ due to ‘unfair’ load-shedding.  People who are financially disadvantaged face other issues like sleep deprivation and problems in completing day-to-day tasks.

In the research published in late 2016, Hadia explored factors driving the variation in frequency and length of power cuts as well as the methods used by households to cope with load-shedding.

The research team consolidated its findings through qualitative and quantitative field surveys at the community and household level in eight slums of the city. Four of the slums were located in city centres and thereby classified as ‘influential neighbourhoods, whereas the others were located in peripheral areas.

The peripheral slums saw an additional three hours of power cuts on average as compared to those in the centre. Within the centre or core of the city, there was a mammoth difference of about eight hours, depending on the status of the neighbourhood surrounding the slum.

“I found out that within the core, where grids are likely to have the greater load, it is the slums in non-influential neighbourhoods that see the most disproportionate share of power.

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According to the study, not only do the average hours of load-shedding vary, depending on the location of the slum, but so do the coping mechanisms of households. Most that live in slums located in peripheries tend to simply wait for the electricity to be restored, while UPS ownership is more common in centrally located slums.

Hadia says her findings indicate that the overall duration of power cuts is not even-handed. Rather, there is a tremendous variation across slums, depending on the location of the community both in terms of its distance from the centre and its proximity to influential neighbourhoods.

“This unequal length of power outages clearly points towards injustice. At the same time, I found out that the negative effects of longer hours of electricity outages are compounded by the lack of access to alternate means of power, such as UPS devices or even emergency lights or fans,” she said.

According to Hadia, there are indirect effects on worker efficiency as problems faced at the home have not been carefully examined.

“Clearly, the electricity crisis remains one of the biggest developmental hurdles currently faced by the country, both in terms of its effects on household welfare and its impact on firm output, and therefore, long-run economic growth,” she added.

Lahore Electric Supply Company Focal Person Imran Afzal, while talking to The Express Tribune, said that there was no variation in load-shedding among privileged and slum areas. “Earlier, there were more outages in areas where power theft was prevalent and there was no means to keep it in check. Now, there is no such thing going on,” he concluded.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2017.

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