On Friday, Pakistani political leaders addressed the country’s power load-shedding issue in a press conference televised by most national news agencies. In the joint press conference, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sherry Rehman and Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf announced that the government will take multiple steps to overcome the nationwide problem. According to GEO Television, Rehman told reporters that a high level meting chaired by President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani “finalized emergent, medium-term and long-term steps to get rid of load-shedding as early as possible.” Ashraf echoed that load-shedding will end in Pakistan by December 2009. GEO added in its coverage, “The Information Minister said that during the meeting it was also decided to end load shedding of natural gas for domestic consumers.”
AAJ Television in its coverage reported at present “the country has 6500 MW of power fr om all sources against the national demand of 11000 MW.” As a result, AAJ reported, the Pakistani government decided “to provide 50 million cubic feet of additional gas and 8000 tons of fuel oil to KESC to increase its power generation capacity. This will lift the burden from WAPDA which will thus be able to inject several hundred megawatts in the national grid.” According to The Nation, Sherry Rehman ultimately blamed “an insufficient level of water resources” for the national power load-shedding problem, asserting that these resources are at “its lowest level in history at 36 percent.” She also added that the decrease in fuel supplies had caused a shortfall of 2700 MW of power in the country.
Numbers and statistics aside, the power load-shedding is a significant issue because of its daily impact on the average Pakistani. According an editorial in today’s Dawn newspaper, “The average duration of rolling power blackouts has more than doubled to 18 hours a day of late, from eight hours in the summer.” Moreover, domestic and industrial consumers in Punjab and the NWFP are facing gas supply cuts due to a widening supply-demand gap. To add insult to injury, noted Dawn’s editors, “the government has raised gas rates but refuses to reduce oil prices in line with the global trend.” In Karachi, reported GEO News, “The power load-shedding worsened on Friday, forcing people to take to the streets and protest against the present crisis…The protesters burnt tires, blocked roads and chanted slogans against power utilities.” Similar protests also have ensued in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, and Lahore, reported Dawn.
What needs to happen? The Dawn editorial assessed,
Officials claim that the shortages will be overcome by the end of the current year. But until then, there does not seem to be any light at the end of a very dark tunnel. The problem is aggravated with a lack of visible activity on the part of the government. A sense of helplessness prevails. A decisive remedial step now, however unlikely it may seem under the circumstances, will not only benefit the people, it will give a boost to the government which has drawn flak in recent days over its real or perceived inability to move forward.
It seems that with today’s announcement the government is attempting to take that “decisive remedial step” to stem rising public discontent. However, the Pakistani people will obviously respond better to effective action than to political rhetoric. Let’s hope that today’s announcement actually results in some tangible relief. [Images from GEO TV]