I have felt a feeling of guilt all day today for having focussed on the ‘coup’ rumors that were triggered by the national power breakdown instead of directing focus on what that breakdown meant for ordinary Pakistanis; why it happened, and what should now be done? The journalistic instinct to pounce on the sensational got the better of me. I apologize.
This picture, published in the Daily Times (25 September, 2006) is a telling reminder of what such an occarance means to the lives and livelihoods or ordinary Pakistanis. But much more than that, it is a testimony to our national resilience. We saw the same resilience during the cruel loadshedding in Karachi this summer, and later during the Karachi flooding.
Sadly, it is also a reminder of just how ‘normal’ such an occarance has become, even though the intensity of this breakdown went beyond the Pakistani ‘normal’. In most other places, such a thing would have brought life to a total standstill. Sheer anarchy. From what I can tell, apart from rumor-baazi (which happens regualrly, anyhow), it was taken in its stride. People cursed, talked, got a little angry… and, then, they went on with their lives. What else could they do?
Pakistanis improvise, they innovate, and they just keep on going. Life is not easy, but life does not stop. This resilience in the face of everyday struggles is at once heart-breaking as well as heart-warming. I wish it did not have to be so. But I commend the grace with which Pakistanis tackle these everyday struggles.
And what of the power failure itself. Someone told me today that it was ‘khuda ki marzi’. It was, but it was also ‘banday ki ghalti.’ This from the editorial in Dawn (26 September, 2006):
THE countrywide power breakdown after the national grid was knocked out on Sunday calls for serious stocktaking. Punitive action against those responsible should follow if warranted by circumstantial evidence being collected as part of the official inquiry now underway. This was the fourth major power breakdown to hit the national grid since 1999 and the longest in the countryÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s history. It took the Water and Power Development Authority more than 12 hours to restore power supply to normal levels. Wapda has put the cost it incurred in losses, as a result of the massive outage, at Rs200 million. The figure for the private sector must be in hundreds of millions, with production in major industrial hubs like Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Hyderabad grinding to a long halt, and disruptions caused in Karachi on account of resultant load-shedding. The minister concerned and the prime minister were quick to order an inquiry into the breakdown; but scepticism remains as to whether the report of the inquiry would ever be made public, let alone action initiated against those found negligent in discharging their duties. No inquiry into the previous three shutdowns of the national grid has seen the light of day.
As people from Peshawar to Hyderabad and from Quetta to Lahore braved the power outage, the rumour mills were alive and active. They spun out all sorts of stories about what had caused the massive power breakdown. Practically as many ludicrous and far-fetched conjectures began to circulate as there were wagging tongues. This happened because no senior Wapda or government official was available to explain what had happened ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬? for hours after the national grid had been knocked out…
…It should be remembered that there are more serious economic ramifications resulting from power shortages and the all too frequent failures of the distribution and transmission systems. Both Wapda and the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation are found woefully lacking in devising effective ways and means to tackle the on-going power crisis. The resort to load-shedding to save the system from overheating and tripping cannot be a permanent solution. As demand for electricity grows, overheating of the existing power infrastructure will lead to more frequent trippings and shutdowns. Neither of the utilities has in place a longterm maintenance or capacity enhancement programme, with power losses blamed on rustic distribution and transmission lines alone running as high as 40 per cent in peak season. In the case of the KESC, it is all the more incomprehensible why the utility was hurriedly privatised without the government having negotiated a capacitybuilding programme with the buyer. The price the people and the Karachi-based industrial and commercial sectors are paying as a consequence of frequent power failures and cuts is all too evident. These and other failures of political and economic aspects of governance are least likely to restore investor confidence in the country.
It is disturbing to know that instead of shouldering the responsibility, the government has opted for a further pulling out of the power sector. The revised power policy is aimed at inviting independent power producers to fill the gap between supply and demand. If pursued in disregard of the consequences, especially in the light of experience with the existing IPPs, it will only make power prices go further up in the years ahead. This is because in the absence of cheap alternative power sources, thermal power is the only readily available means to meet the rising demand. The government has done little to explore the possibilities of bringing on line the untapped, massive coal reserves in the Thar desert of Sindh; possibilities of energy generation using solar and wind power have fared no better in the official scheme of things. These call for serious consideration. A longterm national power generation and distribution infrastructure-building strategy is overdue. The government must not sit on these and other possible options while waiting for the Bhasha dam to be constructed or counting on the so far elusive interprovincial consensus on the construction of Kalabagh and other big and small dams.