Left in the dark: Small businesses grind to a halt as power outages peak

Load-shedding crosses 18-hour threshold in some parts of the country.

Hassan Naqvi July 19, 2014


Muhammad Hussain’s investment into a welding plant has gone up in smoke. The forty-year-old welder returned to his hometown of Kot Sultan in Layyah district from Doha after 10 years and funneled all his savings into a shop and a welding plant. “I started the business near a bus workshop because I thought I would get good business there,” he said. “But soon after I realised I made a huge mistake.” As the supply of electricity to the area is unpredictable, sometimes remaining suspended for up to 18 hours, Hussain finds himself turning away customers more often than not.

After a year and more than a million rupees spent maintaining the business, Hussain says he plans to auction the plant, sell the shop and return to Doha. The decision has left him at a loss, however, as there are no buyers for the plant or shop as business has dwindled in the area.

As the country continues to experience high temperatures this summer, loadshedding has reached a peak, with a recorded deficit of 8,200MW on Wednesday this week as demand for power hit 23,000MW by Tuesday. With 14 to 18 hours of loadshedding, protests have erupted in Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Peshawar and parts of interior Sindh. Hundreds of thousands of skilled workers like Hussain complained that they are losing work or daily wages due to the power crisis that has crippled the economy for well over seven years.

“The government is in the process of making arrangements for private generation and sale of electricity,” responded PML-N MNA Shaza Fatima Khawaja. “The problem is not just generation of electricity but transmission – the distribution system, lines and grid stations have been ignored for decades and the transformers bought by the last government are almost scrap.” She added that the worn out system and low quality transformers are a major cause of unscheduled load-shedding and need regular repairs. “The government is now ensuring an upgrade of the system and is working on power generation,” she explained.

On Wednesday, angry protestors in Peshawar broke into Wapda House during a protest organised by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government against load-shedding in the city. K-P Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said that the province is getting only 1,300 megawatts (MW) instead of 2,000 MW. “If Wapda doesn’t solve this issue, I will not cooperate anymore,” he threatened. “We hear that there is no load-shedding in places like PM House, President House and in the parliament,” said Naeema Khan, a resident of Hayatabad, Peshawar. “This is unfair. Those at the helm preach us to conserve electricity but they use it lavishly without paying a penny.”

Meanwhile, consumers are not mollified by recent statements by Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif that unannounced load-shedding will lessen in the next few days “with the help of God”. “We have been thrown back to the Stone Age with that statement,” said Kashif Ali, a resident of Lahore. “If the whole system depends on divine intervention then why were we promised no load-shedding in Ramazan? Why were promises made before the elections?”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.


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