People in Karachi are facing long hours of electricity outage, that too, in the sweltering heat of June. How are they coping?
hania Asad is in her late 20s. She is the sole breadwinner of her family. In view of the high and rising prices, she made a decision recently to cut commute costs and pass up on job opportunities that required travel, choosing instead to make do with ones that can be done remotely.
For this, she had a plan: “Get a laptop, an internet device, and a mobile phone to stay connected so that I don’t have to pay exorbitantly to ride-hailing services. As a woman, taking a bike to work destinations is not an option for me, it is largely a male privilege.”
But there was a flaw in Asad’s plans. She lives in Karachi, where unhindered power supply is no more than a dream. She’s in a Catch-22 situation. Frequent power outages in her National Stadium neighbourhood, considered a “load-shedding free” area, have left her troubled and bitten into her wallet as she seeks alternatives to meet her energy requirements.
Asad is not alone. Sibte Hassan is a resident of North Karachi. A few months ago he and his wife welcomed a daughter into the family. Like many others, he had not foreseen how fast things will go south. First the rising prices impacted their monthly budget; now, a deteriorating power supply situation is testing their resilience.
“We were already living on a tight budget since my daughter’s birth. Our area had hardly any power cuts. Now, there is no respite,” Hassan tells The News on Sunday.
Hassan now has to allocate funds for a UPS to provide some relief to his baby daughter in Karachi’s hellish weather.
“It’s not like my wife doesn’t work. But she’s on a maternity break,” he says. “It’s turned into a tricky phase for us financially. But what other options do we have?”
Many have taken other options. Azeem Ahmed is a resident in the Mehmoodabad locality of Karachi. He works as a skilled labour in Korangi industrial area. After paying for daily commute and lunch, he’s practically left with pennies. “I took up this waiting shift at a local restaurant to simply make my day to day living easier.”
The recent restriction by the government on markets and eateries to shut shop early, in a bid to save power and meet energy demands for domestic consumers has cost him his chance to make an extra buck.
“Why is every measure taken to salvage the situation at the expense of the poor?” asks Ahmed. “First we put up with ‘corruption’ in power corridors, then ‘new people’ replace them only to tell us that ‘new measures’ are being implemented to cover up for the losses. But again, it is the poor who have to suffer those losses,” Ahmed tells TNS.
Usman Farooq is a high court advocate who has fought cases against the power distribution company, Karachi Electric (KE), against their “disregard for laws concerning power supply and public safety from electrocution incidents”.
“You take up any legislation pertaining to power supply and you’ll find that unhindered dispensation is a basic human right. Outages so frequent not only harm your routine, if you are a domestic consumer, but they also wreck your mental health and adversely affect your work performance,” says Farooq while speaking to TNS.
“Also, if industries get power cuts and as a result lay off employees, that, too, affects the common man. You can’t deny the reality that it is ordinary people that suffer first and the most, no matter what the problem.”
Farooq cites NEPRA rules and the Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric power (Amendment) Act, 2017 to substantiate how imperative consumer rights are. At the same time, he says blatant disregard of the rules is a common and authorities have become de-sensitised to the miseries of the people.
When TNS approached Karachi’s sole power distributor for a comment on the frequent power cuts in the port city, they tossed the blame to the Energy Division for not earmarking them the local gas supply for power generation, which is a cheaper source.
“We have to generate power using exorbitantly expensive RLNG, which is three times costlier than local gas.” In a statement to TNS, it conceded, “The average shortfall between demand and supply during a 24-hour period ranges from 300 MW to 400 MW,” adding that a cash flow crisis is behind it.
The power distributor said that the KE is “undertaking loads across the city… to bridge the gap”.
The KE communications team further told TNS that the government owed them Rs 25 billion in tariff differential subsidies, which are given when fuel prices fluctuate since power producers have to make fuel purchases almost three months in advance. Without this money, the distributor cannot allocate funds for power generation.
Be that as it may, the common Pakistani is at the heart of the ongoing energy crisis, and regardless of technical, financial or other reasons, their misery is far from over and relief far from being easily achieved.
The writer is a journalist who covers human rights and social issues. He can be reached on Twitter at @mhunainameen