Angered by frequent and prolonged power outages during the fasting month of Ramazan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sought a report from the ministry of water and power. The premier’s notice was prompted by an unusual increase in load-shedding hours. Some rural areas of Punjab have had to go without electricity for nearly 19 hours a day, while the urban centres are subjected to 15 hours of load-shedding every day.
The government earlier pledged it would lower the duration of load-shedding during the month of Ramazan, while ruling out the possibility of outages during sehri and iftar. But the promise has gone largely unfulfilled. Despite being a weekly holiday, Sunday witnessed prolonged unannounced outages in different cities, including Lahore. The power cuts had a domino effect as the pumping stations couldn’t work, leading to a water crisis in the provincial capital.
The prime minister ordered the water and power ministry to bring down the duration of load shedding to a reasonable level. He also ordered upgradation of the system on an emergency basis.
The Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) subjected the metropolitan city to long outages in the name of various development works. The unannounced load-shedding triggered street protests in different neighbourhoods of the city, including Canal Road, Garhi Shahu, Harbunspura, Iqbal Town, Islampura, Johar Town and Multan Road. Protesters burnt used tyres on the roads and chanted slogans against the government and Wapda.
Muhammad Ali, a baker and confectioner from Islampura, said that the outages had badly affected his business. “The perishable items lose their shelf-life by 50% because of prolonged load-shedding,” he told The Express Tribune. The hot item in summer is ice-cream, he said. “But during this summer, load-shedding has cut ice-cream sales by 60%.”
Ume Rubab, a housewife from Johar Town, said that the power cuts and the resulting water woes at Sehri have made her life miserable as she couldn’t perform her chores and make Sehri for the family.
Ali Raza, a visibly angered resident of Multan Road, complained that “frequent outages have paralysed their life. We were expecting some respite during Ramazan, but the situation has worsened instead. Why is the Punjab chief minister not protesting now by setting up a makeshift tent office at Minar-e-Pakistan? Is it because his nephew is the state minister for water and power or is it because the federal government is run by his brother? The government is incompetent and unable to solve our problems,” he added.
Engineer Mujasim Ali Rizvi, who is an expert in coal energy, said, “Pakistan would require 49,078MW of electricity by 2025. We need to take up this challenge and enhance our production capacity to 50,000MW from the current 7,000MW. If all hydel projects are completed by 2025, their combined contribution would be 15,000MW.”
The solution to Pakistan’s energy crises lies in tapping our huge coal reserves, according to Rizvi. “Currently, we produce only 0.1% of our electricity through coal despite the fact that we have about 175 billion tonnes of coal reserves in Thar,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2014.