Blackouts plague South Asian states

Dhaka, May 28 :

As South Asia enjoys unprecedented economic growth, soaring summer temperatures have highlighted a chronic shortage of electricity that is crippling enterprise and leaving millions to suffer without any hope of respite.

From India, the world’s second fastest growing major economy after China, to impoverished Bangladesh, which has enjoyed five per cent annual growth since the early 1990s, governments are plagued by the problem of growing demand for power combined with inadequate supply.

In Bangladesh, where nearly half the 140 million population still gets by on less than a dollar a day, the anger of farmers unable to get power to irrigate their crops has led to violent clashes and the death of at least 17 people.

Meanwhile business leaders have warned that the shortages threaten the nearly 20 per cent growth in the garment industry. The sector constitutes more than three-fourths of the country’s total exports. The country’s average shortfall is 700 to 800-MW daily rising on occasions to up to 1,800-MW, nearly half of output. Experts say South Asian states are failing to add the capacity needed to keep up with economic growth, pointing out that China adds more than 28,000-MW of capacity on average annually compared to only 4,500-MW in India. India has been hailed for its rapid development but it has no viable strategy to tackle its power problems. In parts of the Indian capital Delhi residents are left to swelter for up to ten hours at a stretch. Temperatures hit the mid-40s Celsius during May and June.

In some rural areas there is electricity for only two hours a day or none at all. Less than 50 per cent of households nationwide have access to electricity compared with 97 per cent in China.

Lack of capacity combined with soaring demand also afflicts Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest industrial city, where frequent cuts hamper industrial production. Pakistan enjoyed a power surplus until last year but this year it is faced with a daily shortfall of 415-MW expected to rise to 1,457-MW next year.

Sri Lanka is struggling to cope with an eight to 10 per cent annual increase in demand forcing the country to turn to expensive thermal power.

Demand is increasing at a similar rate in Nepal.