News coverage of the “power riots” in Multan on Monday caught my attention today. Media outlets reported that “several hundred men” marched on the the office of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to protest power cuts that the city’s textile industry said “was killing business.” Both the Associated Press and The News reported protesters also ransacked the office of the state electricity company [Multan Electricity Power Company, MEPCO], torched a bank, and left at least 13 people injured.
The News also reported, “Earlier, more than 2,000 laborers among other people, annoyed at intermittent electric outages constituting 10 to 15 hours daily, took to streets. They torched half a dozen motorcycles and a dozen bicycles besides the bank building on Khanewal Road. A police constable and six people including two cameramen of a private television channel were injured after the protestors attacked a police bus.” The violence is said to have been incited by power cuts that have essentially “crippled” the power-loom industry and “rendered tens of thousands jobless,” noted an editorial in today’s Daily Times. The Times editors added, “Along with Faisalabad, Multan has a big concentration of power looms whose lifeline is electricity. One banner said, ‘Constant load-shedding is our financial murder.'” Khalid Sandhu, leader of the All Pakistan Power Looms Association, told the Associated Press, “We are facing up to 20 hours load-shedding (daily), and about 500,000 loom workers and their families are facing starvation if the businesses are shut down.”
Today, the Daily Times editorial commented on the power crisis in light of the overarching problem of rising food prices and shortages, an issue that the World Bank’s Robert Zoellick warned could push 100 million people in poor countries deeper into poverty. On Tuesday, the Daily Times noted that Pakistan “is one of the group of states where food is in short supply for various reasons and where the people are liable to stage violent protests.” Moreover, the editors wrote, “There are two dangers with regard to food and both are related to employment. Firstly, unemployment will swell the number of those who simply can’t buy food. Secondly, the employed population has the money but can’t buy food at the price set for the survival of the farmer, without depriving himself in other areas of his need.”
As a result of both these crises, it is no wonder that people are turning to violence. Although Pakistani PM Gilani called for restraint following the Multan protests, he asserted the government will address the food and electricity crises “on a priority basis.” Do you think this response is good enough? How high of a priority are these economic problems? [Above image from The News]