Apr 25 - May 1, 2011

The people of Balochistan are presently reeling under worst power crisis, as the mercury rise is pushing up power demand. The duration of load shedding in the provincial capital Quetta has reached to 10 hours, while situation has gone worst in rural areas where the span of power outages has increased to 20 hours.

Power shortage has not only severely affected the domestic consumers but it has also hit the farming, small businesses, and ship-breaking activities at Gadani yard, the province's biggest industry.

The province's total power demand stands at 1150 megawatts, which is less than half of the requirement of Karachi. It is because of the fact that the province has no sound industrial base; hence, there is no significant consumption of electricity for industrial purpose in the province. The power consumption is largely for domestic purpose. Being the least populous province, it consumes the least power, as compared to other provinces of the country. The coastal areas get electricity from Iran.

Law and order problem has also worsened the power crisis in the province. The government should take concrete steps to secure public installations in the restive province where the militants frequently blow up power pylons of main transmission line. As a result of such acts of sabotage, the supply of electricity to many areas of the province is suspended due to destruction of the towers.

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 Quetta Electricity Supply Company (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. In the last three years, 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 province's coastal areas have largely been dependent on Iran for electricity requirements. Iran is already supplying electricity through its 132KV line to Mekran. The government should expedite the process of importing electricity from Iran to help meeting electricity requirements of District Gwadar, which includes Gwadar, Pasni, Ormara and Jiwani. The two countries have already launched a transmission line for importing 100MW of electricity from Iran for Gwadar.

The QESCO needs to take immediate measures to manage the load shedding problem 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.

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 frequent power outage is affecting the businesses and commercial activity in Quetta. Small traders and shopkeepers are loosing business due to long electricity load shedding during working hours. The domestic consumers are looking for alternate arrangements for electricity like small generators.

Prices of small generators have also gone up with the rise in demand. A couple of years ago, the Chinese-made generators of 800 watt capacity were available at Rs2500 in Quetta market, but its price has now reached to Rs10,000. The 800 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 between Rs15000 to Rs20000. These petrol-run generators are not affordable for low-income groups of people, as the oil prices have also witnessed a sharp rise. The only option left for the poor is to endure the pangs of hot summer without electricity. The independent observers project that the generators' prices will increase by at least 25 to 30 percent in next two months.

Still there is a big difference in prices of generators in Quetta and other cities of the country. A number of businesspersons 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. This 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 province's largest ship-breaking yard in Gadani is facing a tough time due to frequent power outages. The industry employs over 5,000 people. The longer span of power outages is playing havoc with the industry, which is already reeling from the increase in the average prices of ships in the international market.