THE only light on this street in Saddar during loadshedding hours comes from the headlights of passing vehicles.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
THE only light on this street in Saddar during loadshedding hours comes from the headlights of passing vehicles.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

For most Karachiites, there’s misery in the day and misery in the nights. As June temperatures bake the city and humidity suffocates it, relentless loadshedding, too, has returned with a vengeance to hound its long-suffering citizens.

Burnt out by prolonged power outages, many who suffer the worst of it — that is, no electricity for 12 to 16 hours each day —describe their daily suffering as “frustrating”. It is a cruel life. As night falls, the men and boys hit the city’s footpaths, pillows in hand. Others mill about juice and tea stalls, waiting for power to be restored at home.

“The heat, the humidity, the power cuts; they are making our lives miserable,” Sana, a housemaid, tells Dawn. “I have been unable to sleep for months now. When I return home in the evening, there is no electricity. I don’t feel hunger or thirst — just anger.I want to sleep with the fan on. I cannot sleep outside like my husband and sons do,” she complains.

“When I was young, we could sleep outside our homes as Karachi was a much safer place,” recalls Mrs Shakoor. “Now, things are different. You cannot sleep on the roof in apartments and the streets are unsafe. Men used to respect the women in their neighbourhood. Now, my heart sinks when I think about what may happen if our girls step out of the house.”

A young girl was assaulted in her neighbourhood a few years ago during a power outage. “So many times, young girls and boys have been groped and harassed when the power goes at night.”

No respite

“Our roof gets really hot,” Zuleikha Ahmad, a resident of Lyari, tells Dawn. “Back in 2015, I had a heatstroke. Two ladies in my lane died that same day. There had been no electricity for hours, and I had collapsed from exhaustion. I really hope that never happens again.

Her area is connected to the high-loss Lyari Fire Brigade feeder, where KE does not provide electricity for a total 11 hours each day. However, the area also suffers from unannounced load shedding.

Haji Moosa Suriya, a community activist and resident of Lyari, tells Dawn that, “The loadshedding started in Ramazan [...] We have been trying [since then] to connect with KE authorities, but nothing has come of it yet.”

In her two-bedroom apartment in Kharadar, Mrs R, who runs a home-based food business, says the power outages are only getting worse.

Her small rechargeable fan is not enough to cool her down. She sweats profusely while preparing her orders.

“This year, I got a solar panel and a fan so that my family can sleep peacefully. I still end up paying Rs6,000, when all I have is a fridge, two fans, a TV and some cooking appliances. I have no idea what I am being charged for when there is no electricity for 12 hours a day,” she says.

Her worst fear is the meat and vegetables in her fridge going bad and her losing out on orders.

Rolling blackouts

More than half a million of Karachi’s residents live in slums and squatter settlements. Areas with low-loss (LL) feeders are mostly exempt from loadshedding, while consumers in very-high-loss (VHL) areas suffer the most.

KE defines LL feeders as those where billing recovery is 80 per cent or above. In contrast, VHL feeders — mostly in low-income areas — report recovery losses of more than 70pc as most consumers do not pay bills and power theft is high.

In a bid to beat the heat, citizens in these areas reach out to the generator mafia, which takes a monthly fee for providing power. The power is allegedly taken using kundas in nearby areas.

“For one fan and three energy savers, the mafia charges Rs2,000 per month. For two-three fans and six energy savers, the price goes up to Rs3,500. I paid Rs4,000 to KE and Rs2,000 for backup electricity last month,” says Mohammad Ahmed, a resident of Allahwala Town.

In response to a question, KE spokesperson Imran Rana said: “Unfortunately, global pressures on fuel supply and prices are resulting in a tremendous burden on the power sector and Karachi is also impacted. Currently, Karachi is experiencing an average shortfall of 450-500 Megawatts of power.

“K-Electric is taking all possible measures to manage the current situation […] KE is also actively advocating for energy conservation measures as both a personal and national imperative.”

The citizens of Karachi often end up venting their anger on KE’s social media pages.

“Appliances on standby continue to consume power. Unplug appliances to conserve electricity and reduce your bill. Play your part to drive energy conservation so we can overcome this #EnergyEmergency not only for our sake but also for our country,” reads a post on KE’s Facebook page.

The responses underneath are angry.

“We don’t have electricity the whole day, so we don’t need to take these steps,” says one user.

A quick glance through KE’s Facebook posts shows similar comments. “Why would I write that we have no electricity if we had bijli?” writes an irate consumer.“KE staff’s standard response is there is no loadshedding in your area while we swelter in this heat.”

“Light nahi hay jabhi call karta ho (I only call you because I have no electricity at home)”.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2022

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