No end in sight for Pakistan's energy crisis

2012-08-11 17:26
(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Islamabad - India may claim the world's biggest blackout, but in neighbouring Pakistan an endemic energy crisis blamed on years of mismanagement cripples the economy and makes millions of lives a daily misery.

Six weeks after the new prime minister in Islamabad promised the shortage would be his top priority, blackouts have reached a peak - reportedly up to 16 hours a day in urban areas and as much as 22 hours a day in the countryside.

But with political posturing becoming more acute as the weak coalition stutters towards general elections, there is no quick end in sight.

Unprecedented power failures blacked out over half of India for two days last week, affecting more than 600 million people when three national grids collapsed.

But in Pakistan, shortages day in day out highlight chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, long-term planning sacrificed to short-term expediency, lack of leadership, cronyism and corruption.

For ordinary people it is almost unbearable, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims forgo food and water from dawn to dusk, coinciding this year with temperatures over 50°C.

Peak demand for electricity in the summer is around 18 000MW, with a third of that coming from air-conditioning, but power companies only manage to supply 13 000MW to 14000MW.

Angry protests and riots erupt every few days and the central bank has warned the energy shortages have effectively put a ceiling on economic growth.

The government's Planning Commission says power cuts shaved three to four percent off GDP in the financial year 2010-11, with industry bearing the brunt.

At the heart of the problem is so-called "circular debt", which the commission says stood at $4.4bn in 2011-12.

The dual effect of the government setting low electricity prices and customers failing to pay for it means state utilities lose money, and cannot pay private power generating companies, which in turn cannot pay the oil and gas suppliers, who cut off the supply.

"It's a crisis of management, a crisis which has been born out of indecisiveness, born out of procrastination, not taking the decisions required at the right time," said Shahid Sattar, the Planning Commission's member for energy.

He dates the problem to the rule of military strongman Pervez Musharraf, when a massive boom in demand was not matched by investment in new power stations.

No stability

Raja Pervez Ashraf, burdened by corruption allegations from his time as water and energy minister but sworn in as prime minister on 22 June after the Supreme Court sacked his predecessor, promised to fix it.

In mid-July, a $127m bailout led to a noticeable let-up in the blackouts, but since then cuts have been as bad as ever.

Opposition leaders have sought to make hay, with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) backing protests and complaining vociferously that his province is suffering an unfair share of the power cuts.

He has been photographed working in a tent, without fans or air-conditioning, as a gesture of solidarity with the sweltering masses.

With polls expected by April and rivalry fierce between the PPP and the PML-N, led by Sharif's brother Nawaz, there is little appetite for cooperation even on what analysts agree is a "genuine national crisis".

But neither is there a quick solution for whoever wins. The government needs to pay its bills, but the country also needs to generate more power.

Major projects such as the $12bn Diamer Bhasha dam, which is expected to generate 4 500MW, will not come online for another five or six years.

The rivers and valleys of the mountainous north may offer more than 50 000MW of untapped hydroelectric potential, but Sattar says power generated from it could be unreliable and cannot guarantee year-round supply.

Coal reserves have been found in the Thar desert, but the quality is uncertain and international donors are unwilling to pump money into such an environmentally damaging form of energy.

The government is keen to develop nuclear power as it tries to wean itself off expensive imported hydrocarbons - the country spends 7.5% of GDP on buying fuel, according to the Planning Commission.

There are currently three nuclear plants generating a total of 740MW of power and there are plans to expand this to 8 800MW, but only by 2030.

Saeed Alam Siddiqui from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission said two new reactors to be built by the end of 2017 would generate an extra 680MW.

But as Pakistan is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it is excluded from trade in nuclear materials and technology, and can rely only on its neighbour China for help.

Parallel efforts to reform publicly-owned generating and distribution companies have met fierce resistance - an attempt to replace the CEOs of power companies last year ended in failure after industrial action.

With Pakistan's 180 million population growing rapidly and demand rising by around 1 500MW every year, a daunting battle lies ahead.

If no solution is found and violent protests continue, political analyst Hasan Askari warns Pakistan's ability to function as a state could be under threat.

"If these people can challenge one government they can challenge any government," he said.

"Violence and agitation become the normal political style and you never have stability."

Read more on:    pakistan  |  energy
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Music
Traffic & Train Alerts
Traffic
Milnerton 14:30 PM
Road name: Marine Drive

TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Boundary Road

Cape Town 12:55 PM
Road name: Nelson Mandela Boulevard Inbound

FLOODING near the Strand Street exit - approach with caution

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Graduate

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
DAV Professional Placement Group

GRADUATE - Insurance not for you?

Cape Town CBD
Hi-Tech Recruitment - Johannesburg

Java Software Engineer

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
Communicate Cape Town IT
R18 000 - R35 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to 30% off top fragrances

Get mind blowing savings on selected fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to 50% on Women’s month treats!

Celebrate the awesome women in your life with awesome treats like beauty products, fashion accessories, bestselling books, electronics and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today you may want to bond with your children and need to connect to your imaginative and playful side. It may be that you are...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.