Gas shortage

Although Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has summoned the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to take up the issue of gas shortages after a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, there is little we can expect in terms of solving this problem unless the government undertakes drastic short-, mid- and long-term measures to tackle this issue. The crisis has been caused by Pakistan’s over-reliance on natural gas for meeting a major chunk of electricity production as well as industrial, commercial, domestic energy requirements. There is an 8-10 percent increase in demand for gas annually, while reserves have depleted over the years. Unfortunately, Pakistan did not develop alternate energy sources despite an increase in energy shortages. This winter has been particularly severe because regular supplies are not available even for cooking food in some areas, let alone for heating purposes. The government strategy so far has remained confined to cutting supply of one sector to provide gas to the other.

Two weekly holidays and night timings for CNG stations and cutbacks to industry has improved provision of gas for domestic consumers, but this has other negatives attached to it. Switching to petrol from CNG again burdens the consumers, while industry has been almost paralysed due to irregular gas and electricity supplies. The export-oriented textile sector has suffered badly. Shahbaz Sharif may be echoing the sentiments of the consumers by making complaints against gas shortage, but he cannot ignore the fact that there is a serious deficit. The most the CCI can do is ensure an equitable distribution of the shortages among the provinces. Successive governments’ lack of planning is to be blamed for this crisis.Long-term gas import plans such as the Iran-Pakistan (IP) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline projects are still in the gestation stage and may take several years before being executed.

With Diamer-Bhasha Dam too 9-12 years away, Pakistan cannot afford to remain without energy in the intervening period. Perhaps the situation can be reversed to some extent by exploring alternate energy sources and reducing reliance on gas. Although it has almost become a routine to blame the Musharraf dispensation for not adding to the power generation capacity of the country during the nine years he ruled, the current government cannot absolve itself of responsibility, because it too has failed to make any improvement. The short-term part of the energy strategy agreed upon by all provinces in the national energy conference last year did not fly, as rental power projects have been scrapped by the Supreme Court because of charges of corruption and there has been little progress on independent power producers. It is time for the government to get its act together and religiously implement all the short-, medium- and long-term components of the agreed strategy, which include development and use of all available resources. Without this the situation will become even worse in coming years – Dailytimes