May 122008

By Dr M. Asif 

THE present energy crisis, almost a year old now, has truly made the nation its hostage. Unprecedented in the history of Pakistan, not only is it intense but also costly. Yet the most crucial and alarming dimension of the crisis is its propensity to undermine national sovereignty.
The national sovereignty of Pakistan requires the country to look after the interests of its people first and foremost and to manage resources within its territorial borders any way they see fit. The situation is alarming on both fronts. Pakistan faces energy security challenges not only because of internal supply disruptions but also due to its dependence on energy imports. The recent wave of internal security concerns emerged on Jan 11, 2005, when the production of gas from Sui was completely suspended due to the sabotage of gas installations.

Three years have passed but hardly a month goes by without an incident of sabotage, though on a much smaller scale now. The dependence on imports to meet nearly 30 per cent of energy and more than 80 per cent of oil requirements also places serious question marks against the national sovereignty and decision-making autonomy of the country in the international scene.

In view of the global geopolitical and military conflicts — which are mainly in the oil-rich regions of the world — international energy markets have become extremely volatile. Several other factors such as the frequent and intense occurrence of natural catastrophes (driven by global-warming) and sabotage threats have also added to the instability of the international energy scenario.

The implications of the energy crisis for the socio-economic wellbeing of the masses are devastating. All sectors including household, industry, trade and commerce, agriculture, education and health are at the suffering end. Lengthy, infuriating and unpredictable electricity breakdowns have driven the entire country into chaos. Despite having paid their taxes and utility bills, people are still being made to live with load-shedding that gives them sleepless nights and disturbs their daily routine. The anxiety level of conscientious citizens is hitting the threshold.

With life made too difficult for them to survive, a large number of industries, especially small and medium enterprises are left with no choice but to halt operations. This is where the worst impacts are being felt as tens of thousands of poor workers have been deprived of their only source of income.

A stage has been reached where the crisis is all set to exacerbate in the days ahead. With every passing day, the energy scene of the country comes across new shockwaves. For example, in the last week of April, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority asked the government to further push up fuel prices, the fourth increase in recent months, resulting in an overall 30 to 35 per cent rise in fuel prices since the elections in February.

The Karachi Electric Supply Corporation has also announced a 15 per cent jump in electricity tariff. Bearing in mind that crude oil prices have overshot the $120 per barrel mark, recording up to a 60 per cent increase over the last year, further fuel price shocks in Pakistan are expected.

Subsequently, there have been scenes of unrest across the country. Large demonstrations have been seen in many places including Quetta, Chaman, Attock and the tribal areas. Wapda offices have also come under attack.

The violent protest in Multan, in this regard, could be taken as a gauge of the intensity of the gathering storm. Some may overlook these incidents regarding them as acts of temperamental individuals, yet these are manifestations of the frustration that the common man is experiencing.

Here it is worth citing an incident in Bangladesh on April 29. At least 50 people were injured during a violent protest in Dhaka as police clashed with students protesting against an increase in bus fare because of a jump in the cost of fuel. Police had to use force to disperse stone-throwing students near Dhaka University.

Pakistan with an already volatile internal situation on a number of fronts, cannot afford to add to the complexity of the problem in view of the energy-related unrest amongst the masses.

The fact has also been appreciated in recent studies conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the International Energy Agency, concluding that in the emerging scenarios, those at the top of the economic ladder would be able to procure the basic necessities of life. On the other hand, those at the lower end would find themselves increasingly barred from access to such vital commodities as food, land and shelter. As supplies contract and the price of many materials rises, the poor will find themselves in an increasingly desperate situation.

It is vital to understand that the trend of surging oil prices in the international market is irreversible. There is nothing the government can do on this front. Also, there is no quick mechanism of enhancing the electricity generation capacity. Consequently, in a business-as-usual scenario, there is every possibility that the energy crisis in the country would intensify in the coming days. This, in turn, can adversely affect national sovereignty.

The government, therefore, needs to double its efforts to overcome energy-related challenges. Besides making arrangements to deliver tangible relief, one of the most important things to do in this situation is to promote an environment of national understanding between the ruling elite and the masses.

The former in these difficult times would have to show solidarity with the common man by sharing his hardships. The officials will have to make people believe that they are truly aware of their sufferings and are doing their utmost to provide them relief.

Through meaningful dialogue, the key stakeholders of society i.e. representatives of civil society, industry, trade and commerce, and students need to be taken into confidence about the challenges. For the government, just muddling through is not an option any more as the situation can easily spin out of control and lead to a meltdown of the system.

The common man will be convinced if he sees the ruling elite exhibit pragmatism and sincerity and leading by example. With respect to the electricity crisis, to avoid unrest growing any further, until the gap between the demand and supply of power is met through capacity addition, the available lot of energy should be used wisely and productively through energy conservation and management. For example, the multi-gigawatt electricity that goes into air-conditioning could be diverted to industry so that it could sustain and continue contributing to the socio-economic growth of the country. n

The writer is a lecturer in renewable energy at the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK.
Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 12/5/2005

 Posted by at 9:37 pm

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