Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blogging from Pakistan: Power-outages versus mangoes

by Salman Hameed

I am in Rawalpindi for a few days. It has been 42C (108F) for the last two days. It is good for the mangoes - but not for the people. The bigger problem, however, is that power has been out 12-14 hours a day! This is not due to some electrical failure but rather is a planned load-shedding. So we have been get power for 1 or 2 hours with no electricity for the next 1-3 hours (As a write this post, the power has been out for the past 3 hours...). This pattern has continued for the last 3 days. I cannot imagine how businesses are operating with this level of power cuts per day. This particularly impacts small businesses who may not be able to afford big generators.

But I'm also trying to get a sense of the logic behind this kind of load-shedding. When the power is cut, you immediately start hearing the humming sound of the generators in the relatively well-off places. Big businesses also have generators that support their own electricity. Then there is a new housing colony, where the selling point is that they don't loose power. Why? Because they have their own power plant! Life is good, if you can afford to live there.

So couple of points here. First - and it is a no brainer - figuring out a solution to this acute power shortage is essential as it is directly tied to small businesses (especially tech-related). Second, this kind of power-outages may be creating a further imbalance between the rich and the poor. Furthermore, the fact that petroleum is being used to generate power for the affluent, such a division may be further contributing to the energy crisis. Third, the impact of power-cuts go beyond electricity. Yesterday's paper had a story about water shortage for those who depend on tube-wells (they are powered by electricity).

The mango season is here. But I hope power-outages don't challenge their appeal.

In the mean time, here is an excerpt about the division between the"cooled and uncooled" people in Pakistan from Mohsin Hamid's fantastic novel, Moth Smoke:
The first group, large and sweaty, contains those referred to as the masses. The second group is much smaller, but its members exercise vastly greater control over their immediate environment and are collectively termed the elite. The distinction between members of these two groups is made on the basis of control of an important resource: air-conditioning. You see, the elite have managed to re-create for themselves the living standards of say, Sweden, without leaving the dusty plains of the subcontinent . They're a mixed lot - Punjabis and Pathans, Sindhis and Baluchis, smugglers, mullahs, soldiers, industrialists - united by their residence in an artificially cooled world. They wake up in air-conditioned houses, drive air-conditioned cars to air-condit ioned offices, grab lunch in air-conditioned restaurants (rights of admission reserved), and at the end of the day go home to their air-conditioned lounges to relax in front of their wide-screen TVs. And if they should think about the rest of the people, thegreat uncooled, and become uneasy as they lie under their blankets in the middle of the summer, there is always prayer, five times a day, which they hope will gain them admittance to an air-conditioned heaven, or, at the very least, a long, cool drink during a fiery day in hell.

4 comments:

Asad M said...

what do you make of the Chinese investing in Wind Power in Pakistan?

http://dawn.com/2012/05/30/china-firm-in-talks-for-3-bln-pakistan-wind-farm/

Really early stages and we can't even say it'll take off given the unstable situation but if it does then can bring some relief.

Atif Khan said...

Good to hear that you are in the vicinity these days. That society you mentioned is well known by the name of Bahria Town and indeed is an example of high quality living style.

Any plan for conducting a speech session here in Islamabad?

Salman Hameed said...

Asad,
Of course, cleaner energy is better. But from what I have learned so far, Pakistan does not have a shortage of power - but rather a matter of distribution and associated infrastructure. If that is indeed the case, then wind power is not exactly going to solve the problem.

Atif,
Yes, it is Bahria Town. And this was a short trip so I did not have time for a talk. But next time. Are you in Islamabad?

Atif Khan said...

Yes, I moved to Islamabad few years back. Do let me know whenever you visit Islamabad again. Would love to have chit chat with some thinkers here.