Mansoor Alam, a resident of Danyor Gilgit lost Rs 3.2 million as his plastic recycling set-up (small factory) has been closed since Gilgit city has day-long load-shedding schedules. His factory was remaining closed for 12-16 hours as of the energy shortfall in the city. And, the other people in business in Gilgit-Baltistan are no exception. Electricity in Gilgit Baltistan is rare to be seen in winter and during summers, floods wreak havoc and damage the power supply infrastructures in this mountainous region.
Living without electricity in the midst of the snowcapped mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan, where the freezing breeze solidifies blood in vain, is almost impossible. However, with no other options, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are hoping that the next winter will be filled with bright light bulbs in homes.
Understanding the matter better
Electricity shortage in Gilgit-Baltistan causes serious inconvenience to the inhabitants and businesses. With insufficient power supply, people are forced to consume more harmful carbon-based fuels which beef up climate change. Therefore, a region already vulnerable to climate change moves one step further to embrace the catastrophic results of global warming. Shockingly, according to a contemporary study on the Himalayan, Karakorum, and Hindukush mountain ranges, the area may undergo temperature shifts of up to 3 °C, or more, than 2 °C.
The best alternative now available to address the problems of the energy needs of Pakistan in general and Gilgit-Baltistan in particular, is hydropower. Hydropower uses water to make electricity as opposed to fossil fuels that are used in most other forms of energy production. This method emits zero greenhouse gas emissions, making it an environmentally-friendly resource. Notably, the abundance of water in Gilgit-Baltistan makes this region most suitable for generating hydropower to meet with energy crisis plight in the region.
Because of its sizable glaciers and snowfall accumulations in the high mountain ranges, Gilgit-Baltistan is considered Pakistan’s water bank. The Gilgit-Baltistan Area has been separated into three sections, namely the Eastern, Northern, and Southern Regions, based on the principal rivers and their tributaries. The Main Tributaries and Indus River have a hydropower potential of 40,000 MW, and the sub has a potential of 1,200 MW, according to the Public Works Department of Gilgit-Baltistan (GBPWD).
Despite having abundant hydro potential, Gilgit-Baltistan has Pakistan’s lowest per-capita energy consumption rate. The demand for energy in Gilgit-Baltistan varies according to the season; it is two times higher in the winter than in the summer, but the amount of energy produced is lower. Approximately 75% of Gilgit-Baltistan’s population is hanging on inconsistent and ineffective power plants, the region encounters intense shortages both in the summer and winter.
Since Gilgit Baltistan is one of the top summer tourist destinations for domestic as opposed to foreign visitors, the demand for electricity increases yearly. In Gilgit-Baltistan, hotels typically account for the majority of energy consumption. In addition to the hotel and tourism industries, household consumption doubles in the winter, providing the fact that the temperature of this region remains below zero degrees Celsius.
As an alternative, for domestic and commercial purposes, Gilgit-Baltistan uses coal, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), kerosene oil, dung cakes, candles, diesel oil, batteries, and LPG. Currently, the GB region’s primary energy sources are; 45% comes from firewood, 30% is obtained from LPG, 19% shares only electricity (from distributed hydro plants), and 6% from kerosene oil.
To counter to water shortage plight in hydropower generation, it is important to construct small dams like Sadpara Lake. Moreover, there is great potential for improving energy access in Gilgit-Baltistan by utilizing the wind through the deep valleys. For instance, Khaplu records have the highest wind speed of 7.79 m/s in the month of freezing December, while the yearly average in this district is, 7.11 m/s. With an average annual wind speed of 6.05 m/s, Chilas experiences its lowest wind speed in April at 5.2 m/s. While the wind speed across GB is quite high, the region has a “very favorable” potential for wind energy resources.
The way forward
Unfortunately, the provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federal government of Pakistan have failed to address the basic needs of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Despite this, three policy frameworks have been charted to fathom the energy crisis. The first such policy was; GOP Policy for Power Generation Projects in 2002, followed by the GOP Renewable Energy Policy in 2006 and the GB Hydel and Renewable Energy Policy in 2007. Realistically, these policies look like just paperwork for bureaucracy and merely lip service for the politicians.
Other factors, such as the sharp increase in population in Gilgit Baltistan’s urban areas, contribute to GB’s energy shortage. Additionally, poor management, a lack of water in the rivers during the winter, a lack of technical staff, and, above all, corruption.
First, there has been an explosion in population ever since Gilgit City residents first witnessed glowing light bulbs in the 1960s. The city’s population has grown tenfold in just over forty years. Residents of various Gilgit-Baltistan districts have moved to Gilgit city in search of work over time due to a rise in socioeconomic and political activity.
It is impossible to conceal the corruption and poor electricity management of Gilgit Baltistan’s Work and Power Department. Officials in PWD recruit their relatives irrespective of their required skills suited for the department.
It is time to refrain from cutting corners and enacting punitive measures because it is likely that with political will and qualified personnel, governance will improve. G-B residents must realize that whining during a crisis won’t address the real problems.
The writer is working as a Research Associate at the Pak-Afghan Youth Forum (PAYF). The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.