The lengthening shadows

The power loadshedding has, for some years, been direly impacting the country’s economy. Adding to its baggage of closed industrial units and lost jobs, declining exports and reserves, are the progressively longer outages, with little respite in sight. And that could not but spell bleaker economic prospects to which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has drawn attention in its annual report, Asian Development Outlook. It says: “The economic situation weakened further in the first half of FY2013.....and food and general inflation both re-accelerated in January.....imports stagnated and imports contracted.” The shortage of power supply, according to the ADB’s assessment, would cut growth in GDP by two percent annually, ruining the chances of economic resurgence that calls for seven percent growth. The risk also is “possible shortfalls in agricultural production” offsetting the modest improvement in manufacturing.

At the same time, life that has largely become dependent upon regular flow of power suffers badly. Absence of electricity means interruption in water availability and it hardly needs mentioning that water is an essential component in doing the household chores, including personal cleanliness. If people in sheer exasperation hold public demonstrations, it is difficult to blame them; for they rightly believe that the government ought to have taken measures to ensure an adequate and uninterrupted availability of electricity. While, no doubt, calling a meeting of the Council of Common Interests is a right approach to call attention to the discriminatory allocation of electricity quota to Punjab, the declaring of two weekly off-days for government institutions is simply a palliative. It would, perhaps, improve the position somewhat for two days, but would, on the other hand, cause further hardships to the public in several ways, especially when the redress of their complaints would be delayed.

Chief Minister Najam Sethi has impressed upon Prime Minister Hazar Khan Khoso the importance of getting an equitable share of power for the province. However, the country needs a solution that according to experts lies in the full utilisation of the installed capacity, which is supposed to be higher than the actual demand. The focus should be on removing the hitches i.e. clearing dues of all concerned, recovery from defaulters and putting an end to freeloaders who steal power. The allocation of Rs 20 billion that the Prime Minister has made could set the ball rolling.

However, for ridding the country of the scourge of shortage, long-term solution has to be planned that should cater to growing needs in the future. Mr Khoso has rightly stressed the need for search of new gas deposits, but the known and unutilised sources must also be brought on line as quickly as possible. For one thing, the suicidal tendency of preventing the construction of Kalabagh dam must be curbed. For another, foreign expert advice on exploiting the wind and solar potential of the country must be sought. The effort has to be on a war footing.