In a time of extreme volatility in Pakistan, it is difficult to find stability in even simple, everyday activities such as flipping a light switch. For years now, Pakistan has been dealing with an electricity shortage that is discouraging the industrial and agricultural sector as well as the populace. Until a viable solution presents itself, the future for Pakistan appears bleak with its buckling economy and displeased population.
This crisis stems from an increased demand for power born out of the country’s previous economic growth. The lack of satisfactory planning for energy suppliers to accommodate this new demand, rather than the increase in demand itself, is the source of the problem. Presently, the total gap between electricity supply and demand is over 4,800 MW. As the government continually fails to address this gap between what Pakistanis need and what they are actually getting, the crisis continues to escalate and each day Pakistan descends further into darkness. On average in 2008, the government cut power three hours a day, and in 2010 that average grew to six. In some areas, people have gone up to twenty hours without power in a single day. As with any population deeply dissatisfied with the current state of their country, frustration is being vocalized. In the most heavily affected towns and cities, protests in reaction to the lack of visible action from the government are a daily occurrence. The people of Pakistan are demanding to see change that could eventually alleviate the downward pressure on living standards and the economy.
This energy shortage is not discriminatory in who it affects, and many small to medium-sized industries, as well as the average citizen, are finding it difficult to stay afloat amid the current plight. In order to ensure that they have the energy necessary to sustain them, people and companies must invest in generators. Large industries can handle the extra expense of a power generator, but smaller enterprises cannot and neither can the ordinary citizen. In realizing this, both small industries and citizens are faced with a difficult decision. For industries, this lies in the choice to either shut down entirely or become more cost-effective. One of the easiest ways to do the latter is by slashing employment. While this solution preserves companies’ profit ratios, it is certainly not helping Pakistan’s floundering economy. For citizens who cannot afford this, the choice is between darkness and thievery; out of desperation, Pakistanis frequently descending to free riding. Most industries that are already struggling are finding it increasingly difficult to manage with the further concern of having electricity stolen through illegal connections. As more and more people face unemployment, the number of people stooping to larceny rises and this vicious cycle merely exacerbates the problem.
In light of all of this, as well as the recent estimate released by the Water and Power Development Authority that the power outages are likely to persist until 2018, it is obvious that a solution must swiftly be found. However, in what shape it should come is a hotly contested international issue. Analysts argue that one of the main contributing factors that led Pakistan to its current state of emergency is its heavy dependence on imported, oil-based electricity. As most countries have been switching to more renewable options, Pakistan has made very little progress in pursuing alternative options to its current, highly expensive one; Pakistan imports around US$28 billion annually, the bulk of which (nearly thirty percent) is energy. Currently, less than twenty percent of the oil that Pakistan uses is domestically produced. The country is expected to have its energy demand increase sevenfold in the next twenty years, and it is not feasible to accommodate this demand through expanded imports.
A couple of options have been presented as possible resolutions, each of which has received mixed reactions. Pakistan has indigenous alternatives, though it greatly underutilizes them: 3,362 million short tons of coal (the sixth largest in the world) and hydroelectric potential of 46,000 MW (only twenty percent of which is currently being used). Some people are crying for a complete overhaul and wish to thrust Pakistan into the renewable energy movement, and their argument lies in the fact that Pakistan must begin to become more self-reliant and incorporate domestic resources. It has been determined that Pakistan has potential for wind, solar, hydroelectricity, and biomass, each of which would, many claim, be a better long-term energy solution. Others are looking for foreign aid to keep Pakistan from drowning, but it is not clear which countries will step in to help. A third option is for the country to better utilize the available, under-tapped coal reserves. This option is not as globally conscious, but advocates claim it would at least allow the nation to better preserve energy security in the short term. As the high oil prices that contributed to the original crisis continue to rise, perhaps a change that distances Pakistan from its current approach is wise and the quicker this change is implemented, the better off the economy and the citizens will be.
Staff Writer Sarah Moon