TWO teams of footballers were playing at Gwadar’s Soragbil ground in 2004. The ground is near a power station on the Customs House Road.
The crowd attendance was reasonable. A goal dispute got out of hand, prompting some of the spectators to intervene.
One of them suggested to the quarrelling players to burn down the power house instead of fighting one another as the entire populace was getting fed up with endless loadshedding. The enraged players took the instigation seriously and in a matter of minutes reduced the station to ashes.
Gwadaris, who are otherwise known as unflappable and level-headed, had vented their anger at four generators that supplied electricity to their town.
Gwadar remained without electricity for quite some time after this episode and even Wapda distanced itself, literally, from the place by moving its offices out of the town.
But the authorities relented eventually and got in touch with the government of Iran for restoration of power supply since Gwadar is not connected to the national grid. Since then, Iran has been providing electricity to this port in Balochistan. And Wapda has reopened its offices in the suburbs, not far from a place where there are comfortable rest houses.
We decided one day to seek a Wapda official’s help to understand the factors behind Gwadar’s chronic electricity crisis. This hapless place goes without power all afternoon and there’s no respite even during winter.
Since Gwadar, like all coastal areas, doesn’t get very cold in winter, fans must run to beat the heat, even though it’s mild enough.
A generator was in full cry when we entered the Wapda official’s residence. The generator had a green-coloured tag identifying itself as an appliance from “Jasco Power Products”.
The gentleman was sharp enough to realise that a generator running at the home of a Wapda officer sent a wrong message, sheepishly explaining away that he had switched it on because “some technical work” had caused a brief power cut.
Our conversation opens with the re-playing of a rehearsed line by our interlocutor that since Gwadar is not connected to the national grid, the supply is “not in our hands”.
“Iranians have their own problems,” he tries to explain. “Since Balochistan is mostly barren, towns are far apart,” he says over a cup of tea, putting his left hand on his cheek.
“At the same time, there are not enough resources. This is the reason why Gwadar, like several other towns in the province, has still not been connected to the national grid.”
After lamenting Balochistan’s illiteracy and backwardness, he went on to add: “There is hardly 20 to 25 per cent recovery from Gwadar. People do not pay bills. That’s the prime reason behind loadshedding, even though Gwadar requires just 25 to 30 megawatts.”
Suddenly, he remembers a good piece of news to share with us: work is under way to connect Gwadar to the national grid by 2023.
“From the national grid, Gwadar can obtain 132kv, which is more than enough.”
No respite in sight Abdul Wahid Baloch, a resident of Gwadar, summed up his town’s helplessness thus: “Gwadar lurches from one crisis to other. If it is electricity crisis today, it is water crisis tomorrow, and illegal trawling the day after. Sometimes all these issues confront Gwadar at the same time, but there is no solution in sight.”
Prof Dr Fiaz Ahmad Chaudhry is a PhD in electrical engineering. While speaking to Dawn by phone from Lahore, he said: “Gwadar is far from the national grid. It is not that easy to supply electricity. There are technical challenges, too.
“Iran does its best to maintain supply to Gwadar and as the distance is hardly 70 kilometres, it’s easy to import electricity from Iran.”
But US sanctions discourage long-term agreements with Iran. “It’s not advisable to enter into arrangements with Tehran that run for years together,” the professor cautioned.
Dr Kaiser Bengali, a Karachi-based economist who has served as an adviser to the provincial government, echoes the same claims. Talking to Dawn, he says: “Iran is near, which is why several bordering towns in Balochistan, including Gwadar, are dependent on electricity provided by Iran, while it is expensive to transfer electricity from places like Karachi to the bordering towns.”
“If you run 100 units to Gwadar, it dwindles to 40 units to reach as the remaining units get wasted,” he says. “You won’t get the revenue of 60 units,” he points out.
The upshot is that there’s no hope of an end to Gwadar’s power woes any time soon.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022