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Development: Dashed hopes

April 14, 2012


Windmills at Jhimpir — Photo by Farooq Jan

“I won’t be scared of evil spirits lurking in the shadows when I go out to relieve myself in the night,” says 28-year-old Zubaida, wife of Noor Mohammad, hoping her village of Umar Chang, Jhimpir, will be among the first to benefit from the scores of wind farms coming up across this Sindh district.

Niamat, Mohammad’s first wife, doesn’t know how the tall fan-like turbines looming across the horizon, dwarfing the network of electricity pylons littered across the desert-like region will carve the wind and provide electricity to their homes, but like her sister-in-law, she can well imagine the sea lifestyle change it will bring to the village. “We will be able to cook and stitch in the evening.”

Niamat also points out that they use “Rs1,000 worth of kerosene every week” and they can save up on this expensive fuel. Her husband, on the other hand, is thinking of ways of making farm tools and machinery run with the help of electricity. “There is a nearby village where the people are able to render brackish water drinkable; they do it though some machine which is run by electricity,” he says.

But the problem is these villagers are not getting the electricity. The sleepy town of Jhimpir, 70 kms from Karachi, has increasingly been in the news after being termed the country’s “best wind regimes” by the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), which is facilitating the private companies to set up wind energy projects there. Over a dozen windmills, some standing 84 metres and others 94 metres tall, can be counted long before you enter the town. At the pace the work is being carried out, soon the place will be littered with turbines all over the area.

With Pakistan facing a power shortage of about 5,000MW, the windmills at Jhimpir are indeed a godsend. Currently 18 private companies, each with a generating capacity of 50 megawatts and costing approximately US $130 million are setting up turbines varying from 1.5 to 2.1MW.

Arif Alauddin, CEO of the AEDB, told Dawn that by next year some ten companies would be fully operational. “Our target for 2013 is to produce over 400MW,” said Alauddin. However, he added: “We have state land for 18 projects” but if more land is available, “we can add 400-500MW more every year.” The electricity produced at Jhimpir will go to the national grid and spread throughout the country, “wherever it is needed,” he said.

But Jhimpir is not the only region where the wind blows optimally to move the turbines. According to the National Renewable Energy Labs in the United States, the various pockets around the country can produce as much as 350,000MW of wind energy, with Sindh having the potential of producing almost 50,000MW of wind energy alone.

At the speed with which these wind farms are coming up, soon Pakistan will be among the top 20 wind energy producers in the world in the next five years. And yet, this piece of good news fails to bring a smile on the faces of the villagers for Umar Chang.

“It’s our land and we should be the first ones to benefit,” insisted Noor Mohammad, one of the few literate men in the village. It has not opened employment opportunities either.

Hosh Mohammad Jatial, a local employee working as an engineer with a Turkish company acknowledged: “There is increased pressure on us to hire the locals but there are few qualified people for this kind of work,” he said.

“The few locals who have been hired have not been given jobs commensurate with their qualification; they are hired as labourers,” explained a disgruntled Anwar Palari, spokesperson of the local non-governmental organisation, Kohistan Bachayo Action Committee.

And there are villagers who are certain they will never see electricity reaching their village. “They will take it to Nooriabad (the industrial town closest to Jhimpir) but fail to give us even a little bit,” said 55-year-old Mohammad Tayyeb, a farmer.

He fears that companies will fence the grazing grounds which have been pastures for their livestock for many decades. “We have land deeds dating back to the British period to prove this is our land. Today they (revenue department) have rejected our papers saying these are fake.”

Alauddin said because of these claims for which the local people have moved the courts, the investors are facing some bottlenecks and delays. But Hafeez Sial, deputy commissioner, Thatta, insists: “We have only given state-owned land to the investors." Sial says he is quite aware of the concerns of the people. “We want a win-win situation for all stakeholders including the local people.”

But the local people remain unconvinced. “We were very happy when development work began in our area especially when we saw windmills coming up at such a speed,” said Rasul Baksh Dars, a well-regarded local academic. “Development means prosperity,” he said, adding: “I think whenever development projects are being carried out, the aspirations of the local population should be kept paramount. Compensation should be provided for their land and the companies should facilitate them in areas of health, education and water.”

He believes with Jhimpir’s windmills, the area has been completely disregarded, dashing the hopes of the people, for now.