Posts Tagged ‘ electricity ’

Pakistan _ Nuclear-Armed but Short of Electricity

By Gujar Khan for The Associated Press

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A woman named Rehana Yasmin struggles to keep her sick 2-year-old granddaughter cool in a sweltering hospital where working air conditioners are rare and electric fans are idle for much of the day.

Elsewhere, households can’t rely on their refrigerators, and at textile factories, factory workers say they can’t operate their machines for enough hours to earn their daily bread.

All are victims of Pakistan’s biggest problem, one that recently brought down a government — not the U.S. drone war in its backyard, not its permanent confrontation with India, but its inability to generate enough electricity. Pakistan, nuclear-armed, can’t deliver a reliable power supply to its 180 million citizens.

“Power, power, power is the problem. It’s power at home, in the workplace, on the streets,” said Rizwana Kauser, head nurse at the hospital in the city of Gujar Khan, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.

Power can be out for up to 20 hours a day in the summer. TV coverage may be lost in the middle of a cliffhanger cricket match. Office meetings are scheduled around anticipated power cuts. Without electric fans, mosquitoes proliferate. People get stuck in elevators. Meat rots in refrigerators.

The shortfalls that became the top issue in the recent election are estimated at 3,500 to 6,000 megawatts — up to a third of total demand.

The problems result in part from bad bill-collecting, which leaves utility companies short of funds to pay for the oil that powers much of the production, which in turn means the state oil company can’t buy enough oil on international markets.

Power theft is rampant, often consisting of simply slinging a hook over a conveniently placed electricity wire. The infrastructure of the state-controlled utility companies around the country is outdated, the companies are inefficient, and power plants are heavily dependent on oil despite Pakistan’s abundant coal resources, experts say.

Fixing the problems is likely to take years, leaving Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister, with a gargantuan task. But with Pakistanis impatient for action, the government has announced plans to pay off about $5 billion owed to companies throughout the supply chain within 60 days. It’s not a long-term solution but it would at least offer the government some breathing room.

And that’s just to keep the electricity flowing. Pakistan also has a problem with delivering natural gas to households and companies, and that too will need solving if the new government hopes to last.

For Rehana Yasmin, relief can’t come too soon. She has been at the public hospital in Gujar Khan for a week, tending to her granddaughter who has dysentery. She brings her own water because there’s no electricity to run the pump of the hospital well. She buys homemade straw fans hawked in the hospital’s hallways.

For the past week, Yasmin said, “during the night we hardly have two hours of electricity and during the day, it’s minimal. This lack of electricity is making children sick and making the elders sick as well.”

Public hospitals like the one in Gujar Khan, which care for the majority who can’t afford private hospitals, generally draw power from two grids, but nowadays, especially in the hot months, there’s sometimes no electricity coming from either grid.

The hospital uses a generator during operations, but sometimes has to resort to ice to keep medicines cool.

 

It is a struggle simply to maintain basic sanitation, said Kauser, the head nurse. Wounds take longer to heal. And “When there is no water, there is no cleaning,” she said. “How can you wash the sheets?”

In the past, power cuts (“load-shedding” in Pakistani bureaucratese) used to be much shorter and followed patterns that allowed people to plan such routine activities as scheduling an office meeting or taking a shower. But it was the newer phenomenon of “unscheduled load-shedding” and the much longer outages that raised tempers to the level of an election issue.

Dr. Ashraf Nizami of the Pakistan Medical Association said that doctors are seeing more psychological effects of load-shedding, such as stress and depression.

“It is a torture for the medical community and the patients,” he said.

It’s also bad for business.

The looms in one of Waheed Raamay’s workshops are silent and soon to be sold as scrap metal. This workshop, a graveyard as Raamay calls it, is a sign of how the electricity crisis hurts Pakistan’s economy.

“This is not just the story of this single factory. There are dozens of factories in this particular area, and there are hundreds of factories in this city that have closed down due to this power crisis,” said Raamay.

Faisalabad, the third-largest city in Pakistan with a population of about 2.6 million inhabitants, is known for its textiles. But from the low-end workshops that produce for the domestic market to the warehouse-sized factories that export sheets and pillowcases to international chains, that industry is hurting — badly — as a result of the electricity crisis, say workers and factory owners.

Analysts and government officials estimate that Pakistan loses about two percent of its GDP every year due to the electricity crisis. The Pakistan Textile Exporters Association estimates about 150,000 jobs lost in Faisalabad and surrounding Punjab province over the last five years.

In the part of the city where fabric is made for local consumption, the clicking and clacking of the machines rises and falls with the load-shedding.

Workers show up hoping for a day’s work, knowing they are hostages to power cuts. A show of hands indicates all the workers are deeply in debt to their grocery stores or the factory owners. Angry job-seekers have taken to the streets in protest.

“We don’t have money to bury our dead,” said Mohammed Haneef, who was missing part of one finger from a loom accident. “My mother died and I had no money so I had to borrow money from the owners. A year later my father died, and I had to borrow money. … The situation is bad.”

Kurram Mukhtar, head of Sadaqat Limited, one of Pakistan’s leading textile manufacturers, said that from 2006 to 2010 many companies in the city and surrounding area were bankrupted by the power crisis. Owners who survived decided they needed energy independence. Now, at Mukhtar’s factory, piles of coal sit next to a massive generator that keeps the workers stitching, cutting and dying fabrics through the load-shedding.

But Mukhtar said that the cost has cut deeply into his profits, leaving no money to invest in new technologies.

He doesn’t have the option chosen by Aurangzeb Khan in the northwestern town of Mathra when his power was cut off last year over unpaid bills: Khan resorted to the tactic Pakistanis call “kunda,” the hook slung over a convenient electricity pole.

He said he did it because it pained him to see his kids suffering through the August heat. “I am not stealing electricity just for fun or pleasure but I don’t have any other option,” he said.

Such non-payment is rampant. Even government agencies are known to default on bills. And customers can always go to court to obtain a “stay-order” that forces the power company to keep supplying electricity.

“There is no concept of paying the bill,” said Ashfaque Khan, the dean of the business school at the Islamabad-based National University of Sciences and Technology.

A report in March commissioned by the Planning Commission of Pakistan estimated that the delinquencies added up to about 86 billion rupees (about $870 million) in lost revenues.

The Peshawar Electric Supply Company, whose coverage area includes Khan’s home, was said to be one of the worst at bill-collecting, though it suffers the added problem of being a target for violence. In April, militants attacked a grid station outside of Peshawar, killing eight policemen and electric company officials.

The new government says it wants to increase bill collection but has given few specifics about how they’ll go about it. People like Aurangzeb Khan say they want to see improved service before they pay up.

“I know stealing is not good,” he said, “but if we get uninterrupted supply of electricity at a reasonable price we shall pay the bills.”

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Pakistan Power Shortages Keep Growth Prospects Dim

By Alex Rodriguez The Los Angeles Times

The machine operators lean back lazily on rolls of cotton fabric, shooing flies from their sweat-soaked tunics as their boss, Abdul Latif, paces between rows of silent electric looms covered in lint.

The textile plant owner knows it’s just one of several rolling blackouts that will darken his plant today, as they have every day for four years. Along his street, other textile plants have either closed or begun selling their looms for scrap. Latif scrapes by, but the outages have cut his plant’s output in half.

“The situation is very bad,” Latif says. “We’re losing contracts because of these outages. We can’t deliver on time. If it continues like this, we may have to shut down.”

One of Pakistan’s biggest scourges has nothing to do with suicide bombers or militants wielding Kalashnikov assault rifles. Because the country cannot produce the electricity needed to support a population of 177 million, the government intentionally shuts down power in staggered intervals, often for hours at a time.

The rolling blackouts are most frequent during the summer, when the whir of air conditioners in 100-plus-degree heat boosts demand for power. Apart from districts with top government and military offices, virtually every neighborhood and village suffers.

The stopgap policy prevents the country’s moribund economy from getting off the ground. And as long as the economy sputters, millions of Pakistanis remain mired in poverty and joblessness, leaving the country’s disaffected youth vulnerable to recruitment by Islamist militant groups.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has given Pakistanis little reason to hope for a solution anytime soon. This summer, government officials said that it would take at least seven years to build up the electricity generation capacity needed to eliminate the blackouts.

Various factors explain Pakistan’s power woes. During Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s rule from 1999 to 2008, strong economic growth fueled an upsurge in consumer spending that had Pakistanis flocking to stores to buy air conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances. But Musharraf failed to pump money into boosting generation capacity to keep up with demand and the country’s booming population.

Zardari inherited the massive gap between supply and demand, but his cash-strapped administration hasn’t moved fast enough on hydroelectric dam projects and has yet to shore up the country’s aging distribution network.

Other factors make the situation even worse. About 15% of the electricity generated is lost to theft, says Ejaz Qureshi, a spokesman for the state-owned Pakistan Electric Power Co. In addition, the government often fails to pay its bills to private power producers, which means those companies can’t buy sufficient fuel for their plants. At times, they cut off electricity to the offices of government agencies that owe them money.

The havoc wrought by the shortfall is particularly acute in the country’s textile industry, a pillar of Pakistan’s fragile economy.

Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third-largest city and home to its textile sector, has seen 200 of its 4,000 textile plants close in the last three years because of the blackouts, says Wahid Raamay, chairman of the city’s Council of Loom Owners and a plant owner.

During that period, 100,000 workers have been laid off, about 10% of the city’s textile work force, Raamay says.

Plant owners forced out of business face a grim future. In a country where many people distrust banks, many plant owners sell their personal property — gold, jewelry, cars — to buy the machinery needed to start the business. If their plants close, they may find themselves at rock bottom.

“They all used to have good cars, good homes, and now everything has disappeared,” Raamay says. “Now they ride motorcycles to get around.”

Five months ago, Malik Mohammed Kashif was forced to shut down his plant, lay off 80 workers and sell his 66 looms to scrap dealers.

On a sun-baked afternoon, Kashif strolls through his darkened, empty building and winces as he speaks of the future.

“As for me, I’m finished,” says Kashif, a 30-year-old father of four. “With the shutdown, we lost $350,000, nearly everything we had. We’re at the bottom now because of this.”

This summer, public anger over ceaseless power outages boiled over. In Mianwali, in Punjab province, throngs of demonstrators calling for a stop to the outages clashed with baton-wielding police in early July. Two people were killed and 22 were injured. In Karachi, four people were killed during protests and work stoppages in early June that brought sections of Pakistan’s largest city to a standstill.

In Faisalabad, the extent of blackout-induced layoffs in the textile industry has reached the point that plant owners often work the looms alongside their laborers.

At Latif’s plant, workers paid by the hour say the outages cut their already meager wages in half. Machine operator Mehmood Hussain makes $4.65 a day when the blackouts don’t occur and $2.32 when they do. For a family of seven reliant on his income, the difference is huge.

“It’s a critical situation now,” Hussain says. “We can’t buy decent food or buy clothes for ourselves. And there’s no way out. Looms are all we know.”

One group, however, prospers from the textile industry’s misery: the scrap dealers. Their stalls on the edge of the city are filled with grease-covered gears and flywheels stacked next to piles of wooden rollers and spool holders.

Dealer Mohammed Sharif says he sometimes buys up to 100 looms a day, paying just $290 for machines that cost plant owners $1,500.

“When the textile plants suffer, our business booms,” Sharif says. At the same time, he knows the scavenging can’t last indefinitely.

“If looms continue to shut down at this rate, a day will come when we won’t have any business at all. What will we do then?”

Noting that three in four terror suspects are acquitted in Pakistan, the United States has doubts its key ally would make any headway in prosecuting key plotters of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

“The accused in numerous high-profile terrorism incidents involving US victims had all been acquitted by the Pakistani legal system,” US State Department noted in its 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism, published last week.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation has assisted with the respective prosecutions,” the report said. FBI had assisted India in the investigation of the Mumbai terrorist attack as six Americans were among the 166 victims.

The report found that while Pakistan maintained it was committed to prosecuting those accused of terrorism, a study of its Anti-Terrorism Court’s rulings last year disclosed “that Pakistan remained plagued by an acquittal rate of approximately 75 per cent”, and a legal system “almost incapable of prosecuting suspected terrorists”.

It complained that a new anti-terror bill, which would allow its security agencies to hold suspects for 90 days before bringing them to court and give them a freer hand to use electronic surveillance had not progressed in the country’s National Assembly.

Although Islamabad had increased pressure on money-launders and unofficial ‘hawala’ money transfer agents, “deficiencies remained,” the report found.

“Notably, the criminalisation of the financing of terrorist acts committed against foreign governments and international organisations was ambiguous, as was the criminalisation of financing groups that have not been explicitly banned by the government or designated by the UN,” it stated.

Pakistan’s “weak implementation” of a UN Security Council resolution which lists banned terrorist organisations remained a concern.

The report also criticises Islamabad’s failure to outlaw militant Islamic terror groups which escape bans by changing their names.

As Power Shortages Spread, Pakistan Switches Off The Lights

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

LAHORE, Pakistan — Amid fears that severe energy shortages could touch off riots, Pakistan will announce drastic measures this week to save electricity, including a shorter workweek and restrictions on nighttime wedding celebrations, government officials said Wednesday.

With power outages lasting up to 20 hours a day in cities and villages, halting industry and even farming in some places, the electricity crisis could further destabilize a vital U.S. ally. Already this year, there have been streets protests – some violent, resulting in at least one death – over the electricity stoppages.

“Children can’t do their homework. Household work doesn’t get done, as washing machines and other appliances cannot work. When you go home from work, you have no idea whether there will be electricity at home. Your whole life is disturbed,” said Mahnaz Peracha of the Network for Consumer Protection, an independent Pakistani advocacy group.

The Obama administration says that helping Pakistan surmount its electricity crisis is one of the top priorities of its aid effort.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, said this week that Pakistan’s electricity situation was “not acceptable” and that Washington would help to “the absolute limits of what Congress will fund. It is a big issue.”

Pakistan has been crippled by a shortfall in electricity generation, producing only about 10,000 megawatts of the required 16,000 a day. Further, some generators aren’t working at full capacity because the government owes money to power producers. The government is expected to inject around $1 billion into the system to pay its debts, but energy savings can’t make up for the shortages until new plants come online.

Industries such as the textile sector have had to shorten shifts and lay off workers, and farmers can’t use their electric pumps to irrigate fields. Some businesses, such as tailoring and printing, are telling customers it will take weeks to complete their orders.

As well as suffering from outages, consumers have been hit by a steep increase in the price of electricity, as Pakistan eliminated subsidies to meet lending terms by the International Monetary Fund, causing further resentment.

The energy-saving measures are likely to extend the country’s one-day weekend to a second day, push clocks forward by an hour and close industry for one day during the workweek, according to officials who were briefed on the plans but who spoke only on the condition of anonymity ahead of the government announcement.

Zafaryab Khan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the proposals were being finalized Wednesday and would be unveiled Thursday.

Street lighting also will be cut back, so that only every second or third light is on, markets will close soon after sunset and wedding receptions – huge, ostentatious events in Pakistani tradition – will be required to end by 9 or 10 p.m. Individual provinces will impose further restrictions.

In the dominant Punjab province, where more than half the country’s population lives, there will be a ban on electrical billboards, neon signs, decorative lights on buildings and the operation of fountains, and government offices won’t be permitted to run their air conditioners before 11 a.m. Analysts said enforcing the restrictions would be difficult.

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