Energy crisis in Pakistan leads to protests; likely to impact country’s economy

Pakistan’s reputed news daily Dawn called 2021 another energy- expensive year thanks to an exorbitant hike in the prices of gas, electricity, and fuel required to generate power. The country has been facing an unprecedented energy crisis. The frequent and long energy shortages are creating difficulties for common households as well as are hampering industrial output. This has impacted exports as well. The unprecedented power crisis, mismanagement and lack of recovery plan are nudging the country toward economic calamity. The uneven and interrupted supply of gas, electricity and petroleum products are leading to discomfort among different provincial governments and the federal government of Islamabad.

Gas shortage and power outages

Now many cities in Pakistan are witnessing protests from people over natural gas shortage and prolonged power outages. Electricity is not available for several hours across Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, the power shortage leaves people without electricity for 18 hours. And whenever there is electricity, voltage is low, which is making people difficult to draw drinking water. This has led to protests and people especially women are blocking roads to vent their anger. In Gilgit-Baltistan too people hit the streets in the sub-zero temperatures over prolonged power shortages and black-marketing of food supplies. Gilgit-Baltistan based Awami Action Committee (AAC) called it the failure of Pakistan State in providing basic facilities to people.

Now, provincial governments are confronting the Imran Khan government over the gas crisis. Sindh government invoked a constitutional article and warned the Islamabad government of taking over the gas distribution system if locals are deprived of cooking fuel, which is mainly found in the wells in the province. The province which produces over 2/3 of the total natural gas in the country has been facing a situation where households are without gas to cook food, industries are shutting down because of huge shortage and low gas pressure and CNG stations are closed for months to come,” Sindh Province’s Energy Minister Imtiaz Shaikh wrote to Islamabad government. There have been allegations that gas supply is prioritised to politically-dominated Punjab province.

Pakistan’s problems

Businesses  too are getting hurt. `Exports worth USD 250 million were lost in just a month of fuel shortages which shut mills for 15 days’ Shahid Sattar, executive director of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, said. The high gas prices are prohibitive. The supply shortfall is due to the energy ministry’s inability to arrange supply and is hurting the very future of Pakistan’s exports and economy. Even after stopping gas supplies to the industries, the Pakistan government is struggling to ensure proper supply for domestic consumption. The gas shortages have caused food prices to spiral up and have forced many people to use firewood for basic cooking, leading to air pollution. The energy crisis is causing serious damage to Pakistan’s economy even as the lawmakers are clueless about how to address the burgeoning problem in the backdrop of lack of infrastructure to produce energy from cheap sources, lack of internal revenue to build new power-generation sources and huge debts that forbid further foreign aid.

In the summers of 2021, the power shortage had reached 6,000 megawatts leading to long-hour load-shedding across Pakistan.1 The situation has not seen much improvement since then. However, in December 2021, Pakistan hiked power tariff by an additional Rs 4.74 per unit to earn additional revenue. Subsequently, Khan government increased petroleum prices too. All this has been met with a stiff opposition. Major opposition party Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) called it Teconomic murder”. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto- Zardari said the hike in prices of petroleum products after those of gas and electricity was tantamount to robbing people. In one case, a household with monthly use of just 28 units was given Rs.4,000 electricity bill. Now radical outfit Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) too is joining the protests on the streets over the government Tlooting” the people. Reeling under shortage of electricity and natural gas, people of Pakistan are irritated and demanding answers from the Imran Khan government. “We face a lot of problems while preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner as the facilities remain suspended most time of the day and night,” said a woman protester. The energy crisis has become a national issue, which will be one of the focus points of the ‘long march’ against the Islamabad government, organised from Karachi to Islamabad by the PPP in February.