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June 21, 2020

Hours-long power outages test patience of Karachiites


June 21, 2020

Karachi’s sole power supplier K-Electric has practically begun testing the already depleting patience of the city’s people — especially the COVID-19 patients observing self-isolation, those in quarantine and those living in novel coronavirus hotspot areas under smart lockdown — due to intermittent and unannounced power disconnections over the past few days.

According to doctors, for patients in self-isolation, power outages can be life-threatening. In the wee hours of Saturday, almost all areas of the city experienced power disconnections lasting between one to six hours. KE has claimed in its press statement that they are facing continuous challenges on account of inconsistent supply of furnace oil.

Hapless patients

After testing positive for the novel coronavirus infection, Kamran had sent his wife and other family members to Islamabad and was living alone in his small flat near Pakistan Quarters in Garden West. Unfortunately, during his entire period of isolation starting soon after Eidul Fitr, he had to endure two to three hours of unannounced load-shedding for four to five days.

“Our area has always been exempted of load-shedding,” he told The News, saying that due to that reason, they didn’t have their UPS in working condition or keep a generator at all.

He recalled how he had been suffering from fever as high as 102 degrees and the entire house went dark all of a sudden. “I thought I was choking to death. I just couldn’t breathe and was sweating profusely,” he said, adding that he had no option but to take deep breaths in the open air.

Since Kamran was all alone in the house and was very weak due to the virus, he couldn’t get his UPS repaired. “I couldn’t even get out of my bed,” he said, adding that whenever there was a power failure, he used to listen to songs or start praying in order to divert his mind.

Faraz Ashraf*, 39, is an IT manager at a private firm in Karachi. After he fell ill due to the coronavirus, he had to spend Rs40,000 to install a solar panel in his two-storey 60-square-yard home in New Labour Colony at Ibrahim Hyderi because of unannounced intermittent power disconnections.

He told The News that there wasn’t any load-shedding in his area in the past because there wasn’t any illegal connection. But soon after Eid, the entire colony started experiencing power failures, which are increasing with every passing day.

“Now we have three spells of announced load-shedding of two and a half hours each, and then there are power failures due to technical faults on a daily basis,” he pointed out, saying that they simply just don’t get any power at home.

When the IT professional got infected, he moved himself to the upper floor of his home, while his wife and five-year-old daughter stayed at the ground floor. After the first two days of isolation, he said, he had no option but to install a solar panel because it’s not easy to survive without a fan while you’re having breathing issues.

Fifty-eight-year-old Khalil is also COVID-positive and lives in an apartment at Abul Hassan Ispahani Road. He doesn’t have any secondary means of power at his home other than KE.

Whenever there’s a power failure, Khalil finds himself dripping with sweat from head to toe. “Luckily, we have two west-open bedrooms that are airy,” he said. However, he added, when there’s humidity along with a power outage, the isolation turns into a nightmare.

People in lockdown

A resident of Garden East said that his area has been declared a hotspot for COVID-19, so it has been put under the so-called smart lockdown since Thursday evening. “On Friday, even bakeries, milk shops, pharmacies and convenience stores were forcibly kept shut during the day, even though, according to the official notification, these businesses are allowed to remain open because they sell essential goods.”

As for the electricity issues, he said that when KE sends them a text message about a scheduled disruption in the power supply, the company rarely follows through with the plan. “And then suddenly, when you least expect it, you’re deprived of electricity and comfort in the middle of the night, when people are already asleep or trying to.”

He said that many of the buildings around his residence have active COVID-19 patients living in them. “How is any of those patients supposed to recover when they can’t even find any rest in their own home?”

When someone complains about a power outage, KE representatives respond with the same default messages about “technical faults” and “work is under way” that they have prepared beforehand, so they just have to copy and paste them, he added. “But sometimes, they don’t even bother to reply.”

Doctors’ advice

Pakistan Medical Association President Dr SM Qaisar Sajjad told The News that electricity load-shedding can be life-threatening for COVID-19 patients, and that the power utility must make sure that there’s no supply disruption of any sort in any part of the city. “The government needs to take this thing very seriously.”

He said that due to the hot and humid weather, compounded with power load-shedding, a COVID-19 patient can start sweating and quickly dehydrate, which affects their immunity. “Secondly, the patients may start getting tense if there’s a power failure, which also harms their immunity,” he said, adding that if a person’s immunity is affected, the virus gets active.

Unfortunately, he said, COVID-19 patients can in no way go outside. If there’s a window in their rooms, they should open it for ventilation, “but they need to make sure that they don’t peek outside or no one comes inside from that window”. When asked if such patients can take a shower, he said that could be done, and also advised such patients to drink juices and all kinds of fluids, especially when they’re experiencing a disruption in power supply.

KE’s claims

In a press statement issued on Saturday, KE claimed that it has been facing continuous challenges on account of inconsistent supply of furnace oil in line with its demand and has been highlighting this challenge so that it can be urgently resolved by the relevant authorities.

The company said that this fuel shortfall is compromising generation capability at their power plants. “This current situation was further compounded late Friday night due to an unexpected technical fault at the Bin Qasim Power Station [BQPS]-I, which was swiftly resolved by KE teams who have been working round the clock.”

Explaining the situation, KE spokesperson said: “KE’s daily furnace oil requirement is close to 2,800 MTs per day, while at present, we are receiving around 2,000 MTs per day, and currently there are pending orders of close to 14,000 MTs furnace oil.”

The spokesperson said that these are compromising both KE’s own ability to run generation plants and the independent power producers’ ability to supply electricity to them.

“This situation was further compounded due to a technical issue at the BQPS-I, which was resolved in the swiftest possible time by teams who worked round the clock. We regret the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

The company claimed that they are also taking measures to ensure long-term improvement of their generation fleet’s efficiency and reliability, most important among them being the decommissioning of older generation units and the development of BQPS-III, a state-of-the art 900 MW re-gasified liquefied natural gas plant that is expected to come onstream ahead of next summer.

“This power plant is critical to ensure that Karachi’s growing demand is met. In the short-term, considering that power demand will remain at these levels for the next three months and in the light of the constrained supplies from refineries, it is critical that the furnace oil supplies be improved through imports.”

Meeting tomorrow

Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Sheikh told The News that they have already convened a meeting on Monday (tomorrow) to discuss this issue. He said that the lawmakers in the National Assembly session had also complained about KE carrying out load-shedding.

The energy minister was referring to Kanwar Naveed Jameel, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s parliamentary party leader in the NA, who condemned power load-shedding in Karachi and asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to take notice of the issue.

Sheikh said that they would make sure during tomorrow’s meeting that KE agrees not to carry out load-shedding in the areas where the government has imposed smart lockdown.

When asked what will happen if KE fails to comply with the orders, the minister said that when such instructions are issued in meetings, the organisations abide by them, adding that if the power company fails to comply, the government can go to the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority and take other legal actions.

*Name changed to protect privacy