Power outages affecting health in Pakistan

Power outages affecting health in Pakistan

More and more people are suffering from psychological disorders in Rawalpindi due to chronic power outages, with electricity cut up to 16 hours a day.



By (IANS)

Published: Sun 26 Jun 2011, 2:48 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 10:43 PM

People are forced to spend sleepless nights due to unscheduled cuts. The day temperature hovers around 40 degrees Celsius.

The Dawn reported on Sunday that the number of psychological patients was going up in three government-run hospitals as the electricity loadshedding had created psychological disorders.

Data at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital, Holy Family and the District Headquarters hospitals show that over 180 people were brought every day with anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, mood swings and migraine.

Doctors said that people spend sleepless nights and restless days due to power outages.

A doctor said that the heat made people aggressive.


HOW DESPERATE IS THE POWER CRISIS?

Pakistan has roughly 20,000 MW of installed power production capacity, but that falls short of demand by some 3,000-3,500 MW.

Outdated power grids and rampant electricity theft mean that some grid companies experience line losses of up to 30-40 percent, according to analysts.

Many independent power producers (IPPs), owed money by grid companies and unable to reliably pay their fuel bills, are forced to operate well below capacity, exacerbating the electricity shortfall and leading to longer brownouts, dubbed load-shedding.

People complain the power cuts are often unscheduled and are growing more frequent.

A poll conducted recently by Gallup Pakistan found that 53 percent of people face power cuts of over eight hours a day.

Many small- and medium-sized enterprises must stop work for hours on end each day because of the power cuts, while bigger companies often install their own generators, driving up their costs but keeping them in business.

HOW DID IT GET THIS BAD?

Pakistan failed to approve enough proposed power projects during the economic recovery and boom in 2002-2007.

The government, like many others in the region, has long subsidised end-user power tariffs to ease the burden on households, but as the global slowdown hit government revenue, it started to fall behind on those payments.

That, together with widespread default on power bills by customers, has created a huge problem of “circular debt” in the power sector, whereby grid companies are unable to pay power companies, who in turn have trouble paying refineries for fuel.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO FIX THE SITUATION?

The government recently reached an agreement with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank on phasing in increases in power tariffs. The multilateral lenders are pressing the government to do away with subsidies as part of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme.

That issue is sensitive for the government, because it risks an outcry from the public for raising tariffs, but analysts say it is necessary to fix the sector in the long run.

The government has vowed to increase power supply, and has planned for about 4,100 MW of new capacity to come online by the end of 2010, much of it from oil-burning plants but some from gas-burning plants.

HOW WILL PAKISTAN’S POWER MIX CHANGE?

In 2008, natural gas accounted for 48 percent of Pakistan’s power output, followed by hydroelectric at 34 percent and fuel oil at 16 percent, according to consultancy FACTS Global Energy. Coal-powered power production is negligible.

The government would like to do more exploration to raise domestic gas production, but that will take time to come through.

The country is sitting on a huge coal reserve in the Thar desert in southern Sindh province, but it will require massive infrastructure investments and some experts worry it will be uneconomical given the poor quality of the coal.

Pakistan reached an agreement with Iran in May to import gas via a pipeline, expected to come online around 2014. Authorities also aim to eventually import 1-2 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar per year.

But given the need to ramp up output in the short term, analysts say it is likely reliance on fuel oil will increase.

Authorities hope to develop more hydroelectric projects, for which there is still great potential, but those will take time and have been held back by disputes between Pakistan’s four fractious provinces.

An unpredictable policy framework, largely due to the uncertainty over how long governments will last, has deterred international investment in the power sector.

Here are some questions and answers about the conundrum facing authorities and what they plan to do about it.


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