THE country’s escalating power crisis risks exacerbating the law-and-order situation as people take to the streets in the hardest-hit areas. Moreover, the energy crunch has hit telecom companies hard, with a spill-over effect likely to hamper communications and deliver a blow to businesses dependent on seamless internet connectivity, leading cellular mobile operators have warned. Therefore, the power crisis risks spawning several new crises. Major power riots are already being witnessed in Karachi, with people venting their anger against prolonged cuts in the sweltering weather by staging protests in several areas of the city. Among the worst hit has been the Mauripur Road area, where residents of Lyari and the surrounding neighbourhoods staged a lengthy protest on Tuesday. Bedlam was witnessed as police tried to reopen the key artery, resorting to baton charge and tear-gas shelling. An elderly protester lost her life during the melee, though police deny she died due to their actions. According to media reports, the national energy shortfall on Tuesday was a massive 9,000MW, with Karachi, Peshawar and Multan reportedly the most affected cities. Meanwhile, the leading cellular firms of the country have written to the government, warning that if prolonged power outages and restrictions on the import of batteries continued, there could be a disruption in telephony and data services due to blackouts at towers.
Subjecting people to lengthy power cuts — often unscheduled — in such unforgiving weather is indeed inhuman. But, unfortunately, there is little the government can do at this point, especially in the midst of a grave fuel shortage, to rectify the outcome of years of mismanagement. People are unable to get a good night’s rest, while high fuel costs rule out the use of generators for those who possess them and UPS systems are unable to be fully recharged. Water supply is also curtailed due to the power cuts. The frustration thus snowballs until enraged people hit the streets. The minister of state for petroleum has said that loadshedding will be overcome by mid-July, though the state needs to work on ways to save electricity — for instance, by ensuring that markets close early — even as it works out a long-term plan to address shortcomings in the energy sector. With regard to the concerns of the telecom providers, the government needs to liaise with them and see how their issues can be addressed. If communication and digital commerce avenues are compromised, it will only add to people’s woes.
Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2022