Apr 07 - 13, 2008

As the winter is saying "goodbye" to the people of central and northern Balochistan, the perception of summer without electricity is haunting the people, who are currently witnessing the frequent electricity load shedding in the province. Owing to the effects of global warming and environmental changes, Balochistan has witnessed extreme trends of weather over the last five years. People have been experiencing chilling cold in winter and scorching sun in summer. Besides extremist weather, the people have been hard hit by the frequent power breakdown and unannounced load shedding during summer.

Presently, unannounced electricity load shedding by Quetta Electricity Supply Company (QESCO) in the provincial capital Quetta has made the lives of citizens more difficult. The frequent power outage has become a normal practice affecting the business and commercial activity in Quetta. We are loosing business due to long electricity load shedding during business hours, said an owner of the photo estate shop in Quetta. The common citizens are engaged in making alternate arrangements for electricity like small generators.

Prices of small generators have gone up, as the summer set in the province. A few months back, the Chinese-made generators of 800 watt capacity were available at Rs.2500, but its price has now reached to Rs.4000. The 8000 watt generator is used by general masses to meet their household power needs. The price of 1800 watt generator is also steadily rising and it is currently being sold at a price of Rs.12000. These petrol-run generators are not affordable for low-income groups of people, as the oil prices have also witnessed a sharp rise during last one month. The only option left for the poor of the province is to endure the pangs of summer without electricity.

In rural Balochistan, the local farming community has been facing difficult times due to electricity load shedding, which is not only affecting the farmers and their families but also adversely affecting the agriculture, which is the mainstay for over 75 percent of the local population. According to one estimate, about 229824 hectares of area in the province is irrigated by tub-wells, which have become non-functional due to the frequent load shedding by QESCO. The local farmers have also been complaining against the fluctuation in voltage, which is inflicting additional losses to farmers. The power shortage causes non-availability of water for the crops. The province provides ideal agro-climatic conditions for growing variety of quality fruits in bulk. Last year, electricity load shedding destroyed many crops fruit crops in the province. This time again, the food and fruit crops are facing potential threat from the continual power shortage.

The rate of evaporation during summer also increases and the fruit orchards take more time and more water to saturate. The tube wells do not operate fully and efficiently for power shortage and fluctuation in voltage also causes fault in their operations Water scarcity destroyed many orchards in the northern Balochistan during last five-year period. Fruits are major source of income in areas where water is scarce. Expansion in fruit area is generally constrained by water availability.

Similarly, many farmers in Balochistan had given up the idea of growing onion and potato for lack of water Power load shedding for 12 to 16 hours had made the water shortage acute during last three years. 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 QESCO needs to take immediate measures to tackle the load shedding problems in urban and rural areas of the province. It should reduce the transmission losses from the grid and eliminate unscheduled load shedding. The Wapda's decision to withdraw subsidy on electricity to local farmers for use of tube-wells should be reviewed and the government should continue the flat rates for supply of electricity to the growers for agricultural purposes. Last year, the Qesco had informed the former provincial government that it could not continue supplying electricity to 15 towns including Washik, Dalbandin, Nokundi, Awaran, Mashky, Dureji, Kapar, Jewani, Ormara, Pishkan and Nelat.

In view of the acute power shortage, the new water management techniques need to be introduced for maximizing the irrigation efficiency in the province. Trickle irrigation system should be adopted to deal with the water shortage problem in rural areas. The lining of water distribution network is direly needed to minimize conveyance losses. Similarly, hill torrents in the province bring a substantial quantity of flash floods, which can be harnessed, for the beneficial use.

The government authorities should also take notice of the steady rise in the prices of the small generators in the local market. The independent observers project that the generators' prices will increase by at least 25 to 30 percent in next two months. As the entire country is facing a power shortage and people are looking for other arrangements in hot summer days, some local businessmen are poised to exploit the prevailing situation.

Still there is a big difference in prices of generators, which are being sold in Quetta and other cities of the country. For instance, a generator of 1800 watt capacity is available in Quetta at a price of Rs.12000; the same generator is being sold at a price of Rs.20, 000 in other cities of Pakistan. A number of businessmen have already benefited from the opportunity and earned a handsome profit by supplying generators to the people in Karachi, Lahore, Bahawalpur and other cities of Sindh and Punjab from Quetta. With the summer has set in Balochistan, the business has however lost its charm, as the prices of generators have also significantly gone up reducing the profit margin of the seasonal dealers.

The new democratic political set up should take all necessary measures to assuage the general masses" grievances and their difficulties which are continuously intensifying due to the electricity load shedding and rising temperatures in summer. The power shortage should be tackled through efficient power management, both under long-term and short-term programs.