The latest crisis that has Pakistani’s from all walks of life up in arms is the lack of electrical power throughout the country. While rolling blackouts or load shedding as its locally known has always been a staple of daily life in Pakistan, the problem has become acute in the last couple of years. In the second half of December, the situation got so bad that WAPDA & KESC (power generation entities in Pakistan) resorted to draconian levels of load shedding. The power cuts during this time amounted to 20-22 hours a day in most small cities and even cities like Karachi were seeing 18+ hours of load shedding.
Notwithstanding the systemic issues such as the failure to build new dams and previous Government’s inability to add even a single megawatt of new power to the grid during 9 years of its rule, it seems that the present crisis is a result of bad management and the lack of foresight. The total installed capacity of WAPDA and KESC totals around 19,500 megawatts. Almost two third of this power comes from thermal power plants (fossil fuels), one third is generated by water and about 2% comes from nuclear power plants.
The demand for electricity in Pakistan during the winter months actually goes down and this winter has not been an exception. Throughout the month of December, the electricity consumption in Pakistan hovered around 11,000 MW, down from the peak levels of 17,500 MW seen in summer. This demand was well within the installed capacity of WAPDA & KESC yet they were only generating a meager one third (6500MW) of their maximum capacity during this period leaving a huge gap between supply and demand. Their are two main reasons for this:
1. The water flow from all major dams was halted starting mid December to allow the annual cleaning of canals in January. This action effectively took all the hydro power off line.
2. The thermal power plants were working far below their potential due to the lack of money caused by the circular debt between various government agencies reaching a staggering 400 billion Rupees.
None of these issues could have possibly come as a surprise to the present government yet they choose to do nothing until violent anti government protests erupted in all major cities. A couple of days ago the President of Pakistan finally convened a summit of all stakeholders and since then the situation has improved somewhat but this fiasco provides another example of the misplaced priorities of our democratically elected leaders.
Instead of issuing stamps and coins bearing Benazir’s logo and dedicating existing airports to her name, they should focus on the plight of everyday people and try to make their lives a little bit better. Everyone understands that Pakistan is facing serious problems requiring long term solutions and the present government can’t be expected to make significant headway in the short term, yet there are things where it can make a difference. Eliminating load shedding during the winter months could just be one of them.
Photo Credits: Mona Akmal for title photo
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