A FEW months ago, the petroleum minister had warned of a tough winter this year in terms of availability of gas. His warnings have proved prophetic. This winter is proving much tougher for all gas users than they had imagined because demand has far outstripped the fuel’s supply. Domestic consumers across the country are complaining of low or insufficient gas pressure as temperatures fall below freezing point in some places. The industry has been forced to shut down a substantial part of its production at the cost of jobs and exports. And CNG pumps have been closed on account of non-availability of gas for the transport sector. Indeed, gas users in Punjab, which does not contribute much to national gas production, remain the biggest sufferers of the fuel’s increasing shortages. But the supply gap has now found its way to Karachi and the rest of Sindh, the largest producer of gas in the country. Violent protests, a common sight in Punjab, erupted in parts of Karachi over the weekend as domestic users did not get gas in spite of the temporary suspension of supply to the industry and CNG pumps.
The problem is growing bigger with each passing day as we run out of supplies to meet the demand. While different consumers vie with each other to get a bigger share in the shrinking pie, the government has responded to the crisis by rationing the supply for each sector. This policy has worsened the problem rather than solving it. Even the permanent shutdown of CNG stations may not help bridge the gap that is bringing the economy to a virtual halt. The solution lies in refurbishing supplies through new discoveries and imports from other countries through a pipeline or in liquid form. Simultaneously, gas utilities will have to cut their system and transmission losses and the consumers will have to learn to prudently use the depleting resource, and that too only for production. Unless supply in the system is increased, Pakistan may see the death of many of its factories in the not so distant future.