Thursday April 18, 2024

A winter without gas

By Enem Ali Abbas
November 21, 2022

Of all our past mistakes, gas abuse has had the worst consequences. Pakistan has never been super rich in oil or gas reserves. It also does not have a coherent mechanism to engage international giants to explore undiscovered gas reserves.

The fact that we found natural gas reserves at Sui should not have resulted in the distribution of gas to the domestic sector at cheap prices. How hard was it for policymakers to judge that the price mechanism would affect the industrial sector to the point that they would have to shut down industries to manage the gas needs of domestic consumers?

Since gas was cheap, many households used it carelessly. There was a time when people would leave their stoves burning the entire day. This was done to limit the per-day use of matchboxes – it is surprising that such tactics were used at a time when two matchboxes cost Re1. Such ‘savings’ were not done because the nation was poor, but were a reflection of how careless the nation was towards our national interests and natural resources. From breakfast till dinner, we left our stoves alive and let our reserves die.

Not only are our indigenous gas reserves depleting fast, but our water resources have also declined. Around 71 per cent of the earth’s surface is covered with water and the oceans host over 95 per cent of the total water on the planet. But, do we have enough clean water to drink? We have been contaminating our water and putting in little efforts to conserve water.

The federal government’s decision to introduce LPG cylinders to ensure load management during winter is a step in the right direction. There is no point in the opposition raising objections. At present, we do not have gas, and we cannot import it to distribute it at subsidized rates, letting people use it carelessly at the cost of destabilizing our economy.

We also need to understand that we were running out of gas in the already explored reserves, and needed an alternate, reliable mean of energy to cook meals. Now that we have it, we need to motivate people to install LPG cylinders as their default gas means when constructing their homes. LPG cylinders have always been in the market, but families were reluctant to use them because of price fluctuations in winter, safety concerns and the overall hassle involved.

A new domestic consumer will feel safer shifting to an LPG cylinder which in turn might help channelize this transition towards alternate means of gas. This shift is a cultural change which could only be successful if the government endorses the same. Fortunately, the government has taken the right step this time. In a crisis like the present one, if the government succeeds in providing gas eight hours a day, I would still call it a reasonable winter load management strategy, primarily because we don’t deserve an abundance of anything to waste. And most importantly, this is the only way to meet the needs of financially challenged households which are incapable of affording the alternative.

If we put all the gloom and chaos aside and try to focus on the bright side, it is safe to claim that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is aware of the country’s energy constraints, something his track record proves. During his tenure in Punjab, he added thousands of megawatts into the national grid. This was the time when we had the worst energy crisis. Even though the time and political constraints linked to general elections make it almost impossible to expect any relief, the petroleum sector seems capable to yield positive results in a short span.

From Dr Musaddik Malik to Captain (r) Muhammad Mahmood, the sector has been manned with the right human resource. Dr Malik’s strength in reasoning and logic could steer the sector towards a pro-industry approach while safeguarding ordinary people’s gas needs. Capt Mahmood has already worked with Shehbaz Sharif as provincial secretary for agriculture where he was known as the agri innovator.

The state needs such combinations coupled with a future forward approach to take corrective decisions and chalk out long-term policies in the best interest of the people. From the mess that the political elite has created in the country during the last few decades, it is reasonable to assume that we need a 30-year plan to address and fix the existing loopholes and innovate long-lasting strategic solutions.

The writer is a freelance journalist. He has also served as media adviser to the World Bank and Unicef-fundedhealthcare- and tourism-related projects in Punjab. He tweets @EAAgop