Life in darkness

Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the world’s most unique regions. High mountains, glaciers, lakes, pastures, ancient silk route and largest water resources are some of the region’s unique hallmarks. The region is home to around 1.5 million people. Indus river, which caters to 80% of Pakistan’s agricultural needs, flows through the region.

Gilgit is the region’s capital city with a population of almost 300,000. Gilgit city is a melting pot of the region’s highly diverse cultural and lingual communities, as well as a hub of commercial, political, literary and other activities.

Despite of its political and historical significance, the residents of Gilgit lack many basic facilities, top most being electricity; common residents of the city face up to 18 hours of power cuts every day. On the other hand, the city’s elite receives power 24/7, uninterrupted.

Although, Gilgit-Baltistan is far-famed for its water resources and all the energy potentials, but the natural resource remains untapped, despite of tall rhetoric from politicians and bureaucrats.

One of the core issues affecting power generation is that the powerhouses have been constructed along remote glacial streams. With the arrival of winters, the flow of water in these streams decreases, halting or significantly reducing power generation.

A total of 6 powerhouses have been built so far in upstream localities around the city; 18 MW Nalter, 14 MW Nalter, 7 MW Kargah, 4 MW Guru, 3.5 MW Sai Jglote, and 2.5 MW Bagrote Valley.  The total power generation capacity of the powerhouses is 49 MW in summers at its productivity peak.

According to (now former) Secretary of Water & Power Gilgit-Baltistan, Zafar Waqar the real cause of power crisis is over consumption in urban areas.

On the other side, Iqbal Aasi, President Gilgit Press Club opines that the shortage could be attributed to many factors. He cites location of powerhouses, harsh winters, lack of economic opportunities in rural areas of the province of Gilgit-Baltistan and the resultant 80% hike in seasonal migration to the city of Gilgit during winters as some of the most significant factors.

Iqbal Aasi believes that there are several plausible solutions government could focus on, for instance, alternate energy sources such as LPG air mix gas, solar energy panels and wind energy could fulfill the basic domestic cooking and heating requirement of the residents. This will not only be helpful in combating power shortfall but it could aide in a fight against deforestation.

Saifullah Khan, a shopkeeper in Gilgit, highlights how the unavailability of power turns winter into a nightmare for the residents in the city. He states that in nearly three decades he hasn’t witnessed any improvement in power supply. Continuous power shortage between 15 to 20 hours is a cause for increase in unemployment ratio. He says that thousands of workers are left unemployed, and small industries have been hit hard due to power deficiency. He illustrates how people in small towns and villages shun their areas during winters for better supply of electricity.

Khalid Hussain, a resident of Jutial, an adjacent town with more than 4000 households says, ‘we fear about our children’s future as this darkness shadows their education’. He specifically identifies the March-April annual exams months, when children are unable to utilize their winter holidays for studies due to excessive power shortage, sometimes lasting for up to 18 hours.

These are just some of the voices from the province. There are many unheard voices that continue to struggle for survival during winters.

To overcome the massive energy crisis,  it is essential that government shifts its focus on building powerhouses at the river belt. The perennially flowing rivers are better and more sustainable sources of hydel energy.

Moreover alternate energy sources such as LPG air mix gas , Solar and wind energy must be considered. The  alternatives must be smart and environment friendly. Smart meters continue to prove to be a success. They are installed at Allama Iqbal town (Konodass ) as pilot project. They could be another solution for the reduction of energy crisis. Alternative energy sources could also be helpful in reducing deforestation and putting an end to pollution.

As Gilgit-Baltistan is not connected to the national grid, it cannot benefit from the national power production facilities. By connecting GB with the national grid, the people of the region can be better served. Another option to combat this main issue is to import electricity from neighbour countries especially from China.

To overcome this issue coordination and cooperation of general public and government is need of time.

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