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Pakistan works to fix shortfall

Pakistan has pledged to quickly end a shortfall in electricity output that has crippled businesses and households even in affluent areas of the capital and stoked a public backlash against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who rode to office in May 2013 on pledges to fix the problem.

Pakistan faces a shortfall of around 30% of demand of 20,000 megawatts (MW) with output now around 14,000 MW. Sharif recently flew to Beijing to seek China’s assistance for a series of dams and other projects, including nuclear power, to cover the shortfall. But observers note such projects take several years and often run into political opposition if resettlement or environmental issues are raised.

“Three of the provinces are blocking the construction of the Kalabagh Dam,” said Agha Farooq Ahmed, a technical advisor on power projects on Friday (Dec 5). “This dam alone if constructed has the potential to rid the country of power crisis. Basically these are long-term projects. The construction of a single dam could take up to eight years.”

But according to analyst estimates, around 5 million people have lost their jobs in Pakistan as hundreds of companies closed down as a result of the power crisis. Waiting for another six to eight years is not a viable option for Pakistani families or the countries shattered economy.

There are other power generation options but they too face obstacles. “Wherever you build the big dam or a smaller dam, there is a fear of displacement. And when you have to displace the people, it again becomes a political issue, a socio-economic issue,” said professor Zafar Jaspal of the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

“We negotiated with the Chinese, they agreed to give us two nuclear power reactors of 2,200 MW which will be built in Karachi. But then the moment they came there was anti-nuclear lobby which started demonstrating. So they are going for it but it will take further six years to be completed.”

Ordinary Pakistanis however are fed up and they want power now. For office worker Urooj, 38, there is no electricity in her upmarket quarter of Islamabad, or cooking gas, forcing her to start the day without breakfast only to arrive at an office where shortages occur throughout the day.

“We don’t have electricity, gas or water,” Urooj said. “Bosses are complaining about excessive electricity bills when we are not consuming that much power. Where do we go? We are paying proper taxes. We are the citizens of this country but what are we getting in return?”

Aside from China, Pakistan has struggled to attract other foreign investors to its energy sector largely fed by oil-fired stations, which are expensive to run, and gas-power plants that are stymied by supply shortages. Pakistan now plans to build plants that use coal, along with limited solar and wind power projects.

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