Pakistan Bulletin

An up-to-date and informed analyses of key issues of Pakistan.

Editorial: Heatwave and the Question of Resilience

May 2024

Pakistan faces a severe heat wave and electricity crisis, revealing systemic shortcomings in climate resilience and governance, threatening public health and economic stability.

As we go to press, Pakistan is in the midst of intense and prolonged heat wave. While the average temperature has remained above 40C across most parts of the country since the third week of May, forecast predicts temperatures could touch as high as 55C this month. The prolonged heat spell has impacted urban and rural areas both. A sharp rise has been reported in cases of heatstroke and dehydration.

The official policy with regard to assisting citizens to counter heat wave mostly remains restricted to installing water coolers on the streets and issuing advisories to citizens to stay indoors. A decade ago, in what has been described as the worst spell of heat wave in the region, over one thousand deaths were reported from the city of Karachi due to heat alone, resulting in the shortage of mortuary and graveyard spaces, exposing the country’s unpreparedness to deal with intense weather. With the current heat wave gripping the entire country, and state measures staying restricted to offering drinking water to citizens, it seems the country has learnt no lessons in protecting citizens from the ravages of climate change.

Alongside the heat wave, the citizens in Pakistan are also facing the worst electricity outages conducted by electricity companies. These outages occur due to two reasons. One, the dilapidated electricity transmission and distribution system hinders safe service delivery to the consumers as electricity transmission is repeatedly interrupted by the faulty distribution system. Secondly, the power companies conduct revenue-based load shedding in large majority of areas where they accuse consumers of not paying their electricity bills and engaging in power theft. The power companies maintain that they cannot run their operations till they are able to recover the dues from consumers. The country’s regulatory authority has declared the practice of revenue based load shedding illegal, however, the policy has tacit approval of the government.

The electricity prices in Pakistan have surged to an unaffordable level of Rs 50 per unit, while continuing to move on an upward spiral, largely due to expensive fuel imports, and capacity payment resulting from ill thought-out contracts with power producing companies. Hence, even if there is electricity surplus in the system due to over production, the consumers have limited access to power owing to revenue based load shedding and faulty distribution networks. The revenue-based load shedding policy has led to frequent power riots across the country and recently, a political tussle between the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federal government. The government has neither come up with any sustainable solution to bring the electricity prices down and reform the distribution and management system, nor has it shown any serious commitment towards promoting renewables to ease the burden of expensive electricity production. The resultant distress experienced by citizens not only promotes violence and a battered state-society relations, it has a serious impact on citizens’ mental health and resilience to deal with the climate crisis.

While most of the funding and efforts directed at addressing climate resilience stays restricted to floods’ disaster management, the blatant negligence by developing agencies and the Government of Pakistan to prepare and support citizens to deal with rising number of heat waves is slowly giving way to a health and livelihoods crisis. The gradual erosion in citizens’ capacity to deal with heat wave spells bad news not only for the future of human capital development, it also signals a dismal future for the economy of the country.

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