An old friend is back.
Fumbling around in the dark to find an emergency flashlight was a sensation I hadn’t felt in a long time.
A few years ago, this would’ve been second nature to me and many others. Seeing half of our city plunged into darkness on a routine basis had transcended from a mundane uncertainty to an inescapable reality.
Load-shedding was a subculture.
Seeing middle-class white-collar individuals sleeping out on the sidewalks, like the homeless, risking dengue and malaria just to experience the merest awareness of a “healthy” breeze was a regular occurrence. Burning tyres and blocking traffic was just one of the many varied opportunities the city offered to its burgeoning youth.
Load-shedding was a reality. And we had learned to live with it.
But the steady inflow of Chinese money under the belt and road initiative and the hasty construction of power plants surrounding Pakistan’s industrial hotspots was a welcome relief for many. It didn’t matter that we were further in debt. It didn’t matter that the air we were breathing in was considerably less pure. At least many of us didn’t have to live in the agony of the absence of an essential commodity – electricity.
For quite some time, many of us in the more affluent regions of the city enjoyed the uneventful bliss where power breakdowns were an aberration, not a norm. It seemed like we had finally beaten the scourge of load-shedding.
Was it possible? Was the unimaginable happening? Were we actually progressing as a nation?
And now we’re heading back again to where it all started. Back to the frustrations voiced in many dark rooms. Back to the hustle of dusting out the rusty generators and UPSs. Back to the frenzied scribbling of swear-word-laden expressions of outrage on social media. Two words come to mind. Déjà vu.
So the old friend is back.
But it hadn’t gone away. It was just lurking behind some poplar trees in some rural field like the coy maids in a Punjabi flick.
The energy crisis is rearing its ugly head again. But it wasn’t beheaded in the first place.
I have been seeing considerable exasperation in the (uneasily) shared spaces of the imagined online communities. But a large majority of people on social media are pointing their fingers the wrong way. Load-shedding is only a tiny symbol of a much bigger structural issue.
So let’s explore that.
”There are two major causes of load-shedding: The first is a slowly but surely widening gap between energy demand and energy supply.
There are two major causes of load-shedding: The first is a slowly but surely widening gap between energy demand and energy supply. Over the last few years, the government has promoted consumption in the name of development and growth. And it has also encouraged industrialization to feed the monster of consumption.
But it forgot an essential ingredient. Fuel.
What supports this great big industrial drive is a healthy bustling energy sector which the government, quite understandably so, forgot to build. Oops! Silly mistake. I’m sure it can happen to anyone.
In essence, in our haste to modernize, we purchased TVs, fridges, ACs, heaters, coolers, dispensers, and home theatres. Then we realized what they run on.
Over the years, this demand-supply gap has widened shamelessly. The solution? Quite simple. Stop the electricity supply for a while. If they don’t have the electricity, they most definitely cannot use it, right? The logic checks out.
But load-shedding is a tiny byproduct of that gigantic issue. It’s also the easy way out.
The right thing to do would be to fix Pakistan’s shockingly skewed energy mix. At present, most of our energy needs are met with heavy reliance on petroleum-based products like coal and, well, petrol. This pushes us further into debt with our Arabian and Chinese brethren. It also makes the average unit of electricity insanely expensive for an ordinary consumer. Not to mention its increasingly unacceptable impact on the economy.
Surely the only sensible way out of this conundrum would be to gradually wean our country off petroleum-backed electricity and move towards the greener pastured of sustainable energy resources like water, solar, and wind. Right? But that would be too much to expect from a government that took decades to realize that they needed the power to drive enterprise.
As if our sufferings were not enough then, we now have to confront the second major reason for load shedding – line loss – which is the nice-sounding euphemism for literally stealing millions of dollar worth of electricity off the national grid. But the government (at least in their minds) was way ahead of the curve there. They had another easy way out. Increase the price of the unit of electricity even further. Stretch out the load-shedding hours even longer. Everyone’s happy.
Well, if not happy, everyone is at least blissfully unaware of their grim predicament.
But this is mad!
How mad, you ask? It would be the equivalent of a bank that was robbed that decided to recover that money from your dad’s life-savings account.
Yet the madness does not end here. Last year, our severely debt-ridden government aimlessly stumbled at the doorstep of the IMF. Help us, they cried! And help they did receive in the form of a 6 billion dollar financing program. But it came at a cost. The government has to right its considerable wrongs. It has to make the required structural changes. And, more importantly for us, it has eventually to pay back the IMF every penny they’ve lent us and more.
This is where we come in.
The energy sector is, once again, not in good shape. The shortfall is racking up due to the unbeatable summers. The line losses, though they never went away, have ferociously returned. And, in addition to the external IMF debt, the internal power sector circular debt is reaching catastrophic proportions at around 2 trillion dollars currently.
If this sounds like bad news to you, trust me, it is.
”The recently proposed amendments in the NEPRA Act 1997 will increase electricity cost for consumers even further.
I don’t want to paint an unnecessarily grim picture but the situation will worsen further before it may or (more likely) may not improve. The recently proposed amendments in the NEPRA Act 1997 will increase electricity cost for consumers even further. So the brunt of the circular debt, that was created by public sector mismanagement in the first place, will be borne by everyone who has an electricity connection, which is everyone.
So this means two things.
We can expect more load-shedding since there’s an increase in demand but there’s no corresponding increase in supply. And we can expect even more expensive electricity than it already is.
To put it crudely, we get less of a product and we pay more.
What’s crucial to understand is that both problems were created by the government in the first place. And it is their failures to resolve the issues they created that we are screwed on supply and we are screwed on the cost.
So there’s all the more reason to rage because the government seeks the easy way out by getting us to pay for their corruption and ineptitudes rather than making the necessary structural changes, that they should have made decades ago, to mitigate line losses and re-invent the energy mix to make cheap electricity.
So welcome, once again, our dear old friend load-shedding, to the Islamic republic. Your existence is just one of many signs that the people here are screwed over for the failures of the government.
The sooner we realize this, the more effective our response will be.