A micro hydropower station in Madak Lusht. — Dawn
A micro hydropower station in Madak Lusht. — Dawn

The people of Chitral have been facing problems due to frequent power outages for the last two years though billions of rupees were spent on different power projects in the area, both by the government and non-governmental organisations. Over the years, several hydropower projects have been executed in the region, but the electricity generated from them could not even meet the requirements of local people.

A local official recalled that foreign tourists in late 1980s would show surprise to see the thermal power generation station in Gankorini Singoor near Chitral city where two rivers converged, raising the total volume of water flowing down to 56,000 cusecs.

They were justified because despite availability of hug potential for hydropower generation, the town was being supplied thermally generated electricity while over 85 per cent households of the district were without electricity.

Instead of hydropower stations, the former government of Benazir Bhutto had established thermal power stations run by diesel generators in Brep, Mastuj, Booni, Warijun, Drosh, Garam Chashma and Chitral city in 1989 to provide electricity to the local people.

The abundance of water in Chitral could not relieve it of power outages and today there is a threat to the law and order situation as the people have seemingly lost patience and are holding protest meetings in every nook and corner of the valley.

The situation of power outages is more serious in Upper Chitral where people have warned of long march on Peshawar if the loadshedding is not stopped anytime soon.

The German technical cooperation agency (GTZ) carried out an extensive technical survey in Chitral in 1980s for evaluation of its hydropower potential and had identified over 300 sites with total generation capacity of 23,000 megawatts. Had this potential been exploited to its full it would have provided an enormous amount of electricity to the national grid, thereby reducing the vast gap between demand and generation.

During the last two decades, four different projects were launched by the government and non-governmental organisations in Chitral at a cost of Rs29 billion, but the local people still await normal supply of electricity.

The Water and Power Development Authority completed the 108MW Golen Gol Hydropower Project at a cost of Rs17 billion and it was inaugurated in February 2018, while the provincial government had completed its 4.2MW Reshun hydropower project in 1996.

The provincial government, led by PTI, had launched a project of micro and mini hydropower stations in 55 different villages across the district at a cost of Rs1.05 billion with total generation capacity of 6MW through Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP). Funded by European Union, the Sarhad Rural Support Programme had also launched a project of micro and mini hydropower stations with total capacity of 5.8MW at a cost of Rs1 billion. Despite spending a huge amount of money on power generation projects, the area is still starving for electricity.

Due to the faulty design of Golen Gol Hydropower Project, situated near Chitral city on Booni Road, its generation has dropped to abysmally low level of only 5MW, the one in Reshun was completely washed away by glacial lake outburst flood in 2015 while the power projects launched by AKRSP and SRSP also failed to generate the projected amount of electricity.

The production of only 5MW by Golen Gol project against its projected generation capacity of 108MW during winter season has disappointed the local people. It may be recalled that the German consultant of Golen Gol project had tendered resignation when his repeated advices were continually ignored by Wapda, the executing agency.

The total need of electricity for domestic consumption is said to be 12MW in Lower Chitral and 5MW in Upper Chitral, while the total generation at the moment is not more than 7MW, leading to a shortfall of 10MW.

The people have been raising questions about failure of the power projects which do not fulfil their domestic needs as they were told that sufficient surplus electricity would also be available for promotion of marble, granite and cottage industries, which would create job opportunities for thousands of local youth.

The unavailability of electricity for domestic consumption is leading to ruthless cutting of forest and thereby environmental degradation. In the past, flash floods and GLOF caused by environmental degradation have swept away many villages rendering thousands of people homeless and inundating thousands of acres of fertile land.

About the impact of increased use of wood and peat as fuel, Dr Hayat said that one kilogramme of wood contained about 500 grams of carbon, which meant that this amount of wood was holding about 1.92kg of carbon dioxide. He said that burning of 50,000 tons of wood produced 85,700 tons of carbon dioxide a year in the district.

“The fragile ecosystem of Chitral is disturbed by regular infusion of this amount of carbon dioxide as is evident from the frequency and intensity of disasters during the last two decades. In the same way, the burning of peat leads to emission of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and others,” he said. He added that peat contributed to 75 per cent of total household energy requirements, while in other areas of Upper Chitral and Gobor valley the use of peat dropped to 70 per cent.

As per figures available with the environment department, the annual consumption of firewood in Chitral district is estimated at 2.9 million cubic metres of which 67 per cent is extracted from the forest.

Being a highly glaciated area (19 per cent land cover of the district), the ecology of Chitral is delicate and highly susceptible to minor changes in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. If the present trend of forest use continues for another decade the damage to the ecosystem will be irreparable.

The provincial government has decided to launch a second phase of mini and micro hydropower projects in Chitral while 69MW Lawi hydropower project is being executed by the energy department of the province. A number of potential sites are being surveyed for power projects of more than 100MW in different areas of Chitral.

Given the disappointing performance of various organisations in the past, the people can only pray for success of the new hydropower projects so they could get smooth supply of electricity.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2020