The Wa­ter Is­sue

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As the Pak­istan Mus­lim leagueNawaz (PML-N) ten­ure starts to slide down­hill to­wards the next elec­tion, lofty prom­ises and larger than life claims made by the rul­ing party be­fore 2013 elec­tions are be­com­ing its worst night­mares. The govern­ment, there­fore, seems to be mak­ing des­per­ate ef­forts to de­liver on mother of all prom­ises in time – the end of power out­ages and load shed­ding by 2018.

Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, while pre­sid­ing over an im­por­tant meet­ing, asked all the par­tic­i­pants to make dou­bly sure that there were no black­outs much be­fore the an­nounce­ment of the new elec­tions in 2018.

Bat­tered by its mis­steps, the govern­ment ap­pears to be pan­ick­ing and has de­cided to fur­ther push its de­vel­op­ment agenda to meet its tar­get of elim­i­nat­ing load shed­ding, which it be­lieves, is once again go­ing to be a ma­jor is­sue in the next elec­tion.

The rul­ing party, it is said, is cog­nizant of the fact that the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party’s (PPP) mas­sive de­feat in the 2013 elec­tions was be­cause of the load shed­ding. There­fore, it wants 80 per­cent cut in black­outs in mid – 2017, while the re­main­ing 20 per­cent could be re­moved lit­tle be­fore 2018.

The ques­tion none­the­less is, will the govern­ment gen­er­ate and add the 10,000MW of elec­tric­ity in the na­tional grid by 2018, as promised. There is scep­ti­cism about the cur­rent old and de­cay­ing power in­fra­struc­ture, par­tic­u­larly the frag­ile trans­mis­sion lines, tak­ing the bur­den of ad­di­tional 10,000MW of elec­tric­ity.

Of­fi­cials claim the trans­mis­sion lines are be­ing re­placed. But many be­lieve it is not pos­si­ble with­out fresh bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions and bil­lions of dol­lars in for­eign in­vest­ment.

The govern­ment is mainly bank­ing on 3,600MW of elec­tric­ity from LNGbased power projects, 1,410MW from tar­bela, and 969MW from NeelumJhelum hy­dro project. As the fi­nan­cial clo­sure was achieved for the much de­layed Neelum-Jhelum project, it is ex­pected to be op­er­a­tional by 2017. The govern­ment is also hop­ing to com­plete the 1,350MW Sahi­wal power plant be­fore May 2018 un­der the um­brella of the China Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC).

There is de­vel­op­ment in hy­dropower for the first time in three decades. The present govern­ment is con­sid­er­ing ac­quir­ing for­eign ex­per­tise to de­velop new sites for set­ting up small, medium and big hy­dropower gen­er­a­tion projects.

In re­cent his­tory, Egypt has made re­mark­able suc­cess to get rid of its acute power short­ages by us­ing in­dige­nous re­sources and ex­perts. The coun­try plugged 13 per­cent de­mand and sup­ply gap within two years in 2104. In Au­gust 2016, Min­is­ter for Wa­ter and Power Khawaja Mo­ham­mad Asif met Egyp­tian Am­bas­sador to Pak­istan Sherif Sha­heen and dis­cussed the early pos­si­bil­ity of ac­quir­ing lo­cal Egyp­tian power sec­tor ex­perts to help gen­er­ate hy­dropower in the coun­try. They also dis­cussed new trade co­op­er­a­tion through Suez Canal and Gwadar port un­der the CPEC. For this, the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have also ex­pressed will­ing­ness to co­op­er­ate, as it will of­fer them ac­cess to reach African and Euro­pean mar­kets in a big way.

“Hope­fully Pak­istani govern­ment will soon re­ceive the Egyp­tian del­e­ga­tion of power sec­tor ex­perts, in the light of my meet­ing with your wa­ter and power min­is­ter,” Am­bas­sador Sha­heen said. The Egyp­tian co­op­er­a­tion, he said, is be­ing sought by a num­ber of coun­tries aimed at gen­er­at­ing hy­dropower in a record pe­riod of time. “We spent about $4-6 bil­lion not only to meet our elec­tric­ity re­quire­ments but also gen­er­ate sur­plus power to ex­port­ing it to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.”

qo forge im­proved trade and eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the power sec­tor and CPEC re­lated projects, he would soon be meet­ing min­is­ters for fi­nance, plan­ning, and

ports and ship­ping to fi­nalise is­sues re­lat­ing to the power sec­tor, and greater co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Suez Canal and Gwadar port.

How­ever, he ex­pressed dis­sat­is­fac­tion over the cur­rent level of $300 mil­lion an­nual bi­lat­eral trade. “I am look­ing for­ward to forge se­ri­ous co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries which will, in the first place, ben­e­fit Pak­istan to over­come its power short­ages,” the am­bas­sador said.

Though a num­ber of new coal­based and ther­mal power con­tracts were signed with Chi­nese com­pa­nies, the 10 power plants of 6,000MW at Gadani near Karachi shut­down due to dif­fer­ences over the mode of pay­ments, cast doubts on the plan to add 10,000MW by 2018.

The col­lapse of Nandipur power plant is another fail­ure. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional trans­mis­sion Dis­tri­bu­tion Com­pany, Nandipur project is gen­er­at­ing only 230MW in­stead of 425MW, caus­ing huge losses to the na­tional kitty. Crit­ics of the govern­ment, main­tain that the project is not even gen­er­at­ing 100MW of elec­tric­ity, and that the re­cent de­struc­tion of its records due to fire speaks vol­umes about it.

There seems to be a con­sen­sus that power cri­sis can­not be re­moved with­out un­der­tak­ing deeper en­ergy sec­tor re­forms.

The good thing is that all govern­ment func­tionar­ies have lately been told to avoid giv­ing dates as to when load shed­ding will end.

Pun­jab Chief Min­is­ter Shah­baz Sharif had been very vo­cal over the is­sue, and had even given dates when the con­stant black­outs will be over in both ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas. He is now keep­ing quiet, but the prime min­is­ter is of­ten seen talk­ing about the is­sue. He ap­par­ently fears that in case load shed­ding con­tin­ues, his party may face de­feat like the previous PPP govern­ment.

Iron­i­cally he skips manda­tory con­sti­tu­tional meet­ings but holds reg­u­lar meet­ings on de­vel­op­ment is­sues. He is not happy over the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion that asked the fed­eral cabi­net to rat­ify all the de­ci­sions of the Eco­nomic Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee (ECC) of the Cabi­net. qhe prime min­is­ter has di­rected the con­cerned au­thor­i­ties to file an ap­peal in the apex court to re­view its de­ci­sion.

The prob­lem of chronic power short­age could not be re­solved for the last many years, be­cause the en­tire power sys­tem is out­dated and re­quires mean­ing­ful in­sti­tu­tional re­forms. Wide rang­ing re­forms are needed to cover the gov­er­nance of the power sec­tor en­ti­ties and en­sure the in­duc­tion of new tech­nolo­gies like bet­ter and work­able power me­tres and the pric­ing re­forms.

Did the govern­ment cover these as­pects in any power pol­icy? The grow­ing de­pen­dence on im­ported fuel oil for power gen­er­a­tion is one of the fac­tors hin­der­ing power pro­duc­tion. Im­prov­ing ef­fi­cien­cies and ac­cu­rate billing is another im­por­tant area that needs to be ad­dressed. All this needs long term strat­egy and pol­icy frame­work.

The elec­tric­ity short­fall ranges from 6,000MW-8,000MW this year. With pop­u­la­tion reach­ing 200 mil­lion, suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments failed to plan power gen­er­a­tion.

The Nawaz govern­ment pledged to ad­dress the is­sue once and for all, but just fo­cused only on ther­mal or coal fired power plants. The do­mes­tic in­fe­rior coal is not con­sid­ered good to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity; there­fore, fo­cus re­mained on ex­pen­sive ther­mal power for which im­ported fuel is nec­es­sary.

Ther­mal lobby al­ways ma­noeu­vred gov­ern­ments when they de­cided to ac­cord pref­er­ence to hy­dropower gen­er­a­tion. Time and again the peo­ple of Pak­istan asked why no hy­dropower projects were planned af­ter the huge suc­cess of tar­bela and Mangla dams. The 4,500MW Kal­abagh dam, planned and ap­proved in the 80s by ma­jor lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, was made con­tro­ver­sial de­spite the World Bank ap­proval of $5 bil­lion fund­ing.

About 40 per­cent wa­ter that goes to waste an­nu­ally could have been utilised had there been no ther­mal lobby. Chi­nese and In­di­ans have built hun­dreds of small and big dams and are mostly ful­fill­ing their elec­tric­ity re­quire­ments through hy­dropower gen­er­a­tion.

In­dus­try peo­ple are cry­ing for want of un­in­ter­rupted sup­ply of elec­tric­ity and gas. Only re­cently they re­ceived some respite when the prime min­is­ter took some per­sonal in­ter­est in the mat­ter.

Ma­jor is­sues contributing to load shed­ding are theft and trans­mis­sion losses. Other prob­lems in­clude in­ef­fi­ciency, cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and faulty plan­ning and its hap­haz­ard ex­e­cu­tion.

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments avoided to fo­cus on re­new­able en­ergy and re­mained glued to ther­mal power gen­er­a­tion through the in­fa­mous In­de­pen­dent Power Pro­duc­ers (IPPs).

It is high time to fo­cus on hy­dropower gen­er­a­tion. But will the ther­mal lobby al­low such a move or it will con­tinue to ruin any moves to pro­vide in­ex­pen­sive elec­tric­ity, pil­ing up the cir­cu­lar debt.

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