Mar 10 - 16, 2008

For the last many years, local farmers have been facing difficult times due to continual electricity load shedding and frequent power breakdown in Balochistan. The power outage problem is adversely affecting agriculture, the mainstay of local economy. About 22,9824 hectares of area in the province is irrigated by tub-wells. Frequent load shedding by Quetta Electricity Supply Company (QESCO) and fluctuation in voltage is playing havoc with the agriculture sector. Many rural areas have recently been facing 8-12 hours load-shedding. Despite this, fluctuation in power supply has inflicted additional losses to farmers.

During last ex-harvesting year, the power shortage problem in rural Balochistan brought disaster to food crops including onion, potatoes, zeera, and Lusan and green vegetables. There were many districts and tehsils like Mastung, Kalat, Khad Kocha, Manguchar, Gidar, Naushki, Abad, Kanak, Dulai, Ahmadwal, Diringar, Mal, Dasht, and Spilinji, which were hard-hit by water shortage due to the frequent power breakdown. These are the areas where onions and potatoes are grown in bulk. Many farmers had abandoned growing these crops for water problem. The province provides ideal agro-climatic conditions for onion cultivation. Onion is grown in Quetta, Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Naseerabad, Qila Saifullah, Kharan, Chaghi and other districts. The power shortage and load shedding has not only destroyed this crop but also discouraged farmers to invest their time, energy and money to get a good yield.

The local farmers have strongly been protesting over the power shortage problem. Hafiz Ayub Kurd, a farmer from Dasht area told this scribe that power load shedding has destroyed many crops in the area. The fruit crops are also facing potential threat from the continual power shortage in the area. He said, "the fruit crops like apple need sustainable supply of water, which is not possible in the given power crisis. Many farmers have given up the idea of growing onion and potato for lack of water." The fruit crops in northern Balochistan have adversely affected by scarcity of water, as tube wells are not operating fully and efficiently for power shortage. Some local farmers of the area told this scribe that water scarcity has destroyed many orchards in the area. Power load shedding for 12 to 16 hours has made this problem acute. Moreover the rate of evaporation during summer has increased and the fruit orchards are taking more time and more water to saturate.

Last year, the Water and Power Development Authority had decided to stop power supply to over a dozen cities and towns of Balochistan by closing 15 power houses because of financial crisis. The Qesco had informed the former provincial government that because of financial crisis, it was not possible for it to continue supplying electricity to the cities. The towns which were affected by power outage included Washik, Dalbandin, Nokundi, Awaran, Mashky, Dureji, Kapar, Jewani, Ormara, Pishkan and Nelat.

Qesco had informed the provincial government to pay its outstanding amount of Rs160 million if it wanted the supply to continue. Qesco, for several years, had been supplying electricity for 12 hour a day through power houses to 15 towns and cities not linked with the national grid. Qesco authorities were of the view that the provincial government should pay the difference between the power generation cost and revenue earned from the consumers. However, provincial government had contended that power supply to all areas of the country was the responsibility of Wapda and Qesco would not be allowed to shut 15 small power houses in different areas. About Wapda's decision to withdraw subsidy on electricity to farmers for use of tube-wells, the provincial government had viewed that the issue pertained to federal and provincial governments and Wapda; therefore no one could take any unilateral decision.

Power shortage has caused a drought like situation in the province. Balochistan is called the fruit garden of Pakistan. The acute shortage of water due to frequent power break down is playing havoc with these fruit crops. Fruits are major source of income in areas where water is scarce. Expansion in fruit area is generally constrained by water availability. Trickle Irrigation System has been recognized as a method of irrigation which provides maximum possible irrigation water efficiency and which is claimed to be upto 90%.

Electricity is the major constituent of energy sources consumed in Balochistan. Fourteen thermal power stations including Quetta and Pasni power stations are in operation in the province. These stations provide electricity to the national grid. According to an estimate, the total installed capacity of thermal powerhouses in public sector is 116 megawatts. There are two main power transmission lines from Guddu, mainly Sibi and Jacobabad, connecting Quetta and other regions. Moreover, the Habibullah Coastal Power Plant in private sector can also meet the additional power requirements of Quetta and other areas.

In order to obtain maximum irrigation efficiency, new water management techniques need to be introduced in Balochistan. The hill torrents in the province bring a substantial quantity of flash floods, which can be harnessed for the beneficial use. It has been envisaged to analyze the ground-water potential in conjunction with the availability of surface water at different levels of assurances for irrigation purposes to attain optimum water resources utilization. This can be achieved by adopting trickle irrigation system and lining of water distribution network to minimize conveyance losses. Federal Government must expedite its recently embarked plan for the construction of concrete watercourses throughout the province. According to this plan Rs 5 billion would be spent in Balochistan for the construction of pucca watercourses to help irrigated orchards of more than 500,000 acres.

In real terms, proper and regular supply of electricity resurrects agriculture, the key sector of local economy. The local growers have been in confrontation with the serious problems due to the irregular supply of electricity or fluctuation in voltage. The QESCO needs to take immediate measures to tackle these problems. There is a high need to take steps for reducing transmission losses from the grid and eliminate frequent power breakdown or unscheduled load shedding. The government should continue the flat rates for supply of electricity to the growers for agricultural purposes in view of the miserable socio-economic conditions of growers in Balochistan.