Since it came into power in 2008, the PPP government’s efforts to tackle the power crisis have rarely gone beyond the superficial. A perennial favourite; instituting daylight savings and moving the clock back one hour, has negligible effect on power consumption in a country where sunlight is already so plentiful during summer. At the same time, the government has buckled under pressure from its allies and opposition parties whenever it has tried to raise the prices of petroleum products. Given this history, it is hard to avoid being pessimistic about Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s three-day conference on our energy crisis. And Gilani’s hope that leading national politicians will offer sound advice on whether to continue petroleum subsidies is even more naive.
Given the severity of our energy crisis, the recommendations that cropped up at the conference did not do much to inspire confidence. Once again, instituting daylight savings was suggested, as were other stopgap measures like two-day weekends. These are ideas that have been tried, and failed simply because they are little more than public-relations exercises meant to convince the public that the government is trying to do something to alleviate their misery. Similarly, calling for greater foreign investment in our nascent energy industry is not a solution but a pipe-dream, especially considering the law-and-order situation and the Balochistan High Court ruling on the Reko Diq project, both of which would scare off any potential investors from abroad.
The truth is, there is very little that can be done to solve our energy crisis. Pleas for conservation and reduction in power usage tend to fall on deaf ears. There is only one way to reduce the demand for power, and that is by reducing the subsidy on it. This will lead to a painful increase in prices throughout the economy but given the perilous financial situation of our government and the high demand for petroleum products, it has now become unavoidable. In the long run, Pakistan has to develop its own sources of energy. New gas fields and coal mines have to be found and tapped. Above all, solar and wind power need to be heavily invested in as an environmentally-friendly alternative.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2011.
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