Western Sanctions & Scarce Investments Cut Pakistan's Gas Supplies, Leaving Millions to Suffer
10:45 GMT 24.11.2022 (Updated: 18:03 GMT 08.12.2022)
Pakistan's Petroleum Division told a parliamentary panel last week that there would be gas load shedding for hours throughout the winter due to gas shortages in the country. However, the load shedding started a month earlier, putting immense pressure on civilians across the country.
Residents of different areas in Lahore told Sputnik that gas load shedding has started much earlier than the officially planned. Currently, there is a very low gas supply in people's homes and in some households, there is no supply of gas at all during the peak morning and evening hours.
A corporate lawyer, Naheen Khar, explained why the gas situation is causing misery and trouble in her household.
"The gas situation in my house is such that if someone is cooking, we can't take a shower at that time. Either the water heater (geyser) can be working or the food can be cooked, because the geyser works on gas. There is a major gas shortage in the kitchen, it takes us double the time to cook the same meals due to the low gas pressure. It takes my cook an hour and a half to cook what previously was ready in just 40 minutes. Making a meat dish for the family now takes hours, because gas pressure is so low. It is causing a lot of trouble for many households," Naheen told Sputnik.
It should be noted that winter has not yet hit in the metropolis, although the evenings are getting much cooler.
"Everyone is complaining about the gas shortages in their homes. The other day, my friend and I were discussing that it is getting cold in Lahore, but the electricity is so expensive. You can buy electric heaters and electric stoves, but then you will have to pay an arm and a leg for the monthly electricity bill. Hence, we have no option but to use gas heaters and gas water geysers, but the situation is such that either we can have a warm meal, a warm house or a warm bath," the lawyer elaborated.
What Is it All About?
Some of the reasons why this gas shortage is happening is because Pakistan's authorities could not find new gas reservoirs for the country's industrial, commercial and domestic usage. Although reports suggest that there were prospective areas in the country with plenty of gas deposits, exploration was not possible for security reasons.
It should be noted that Pakistan recently ranked 29th among the countries holding natural gas reserves. These findings were revealed in a gas monitor report
presented by Dr. Amanullah Mahar, director of the Center for Environmental Sciences at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro.
The doctor said that Sindh has 124 gas fields and accounts for 63% of the reserves. The biggest field of natural gas is reportedly in the Sui region of Balochistan accounting for 6%. According to the report, Pakistan has proven reserves equivalent to 12 times its annual consumption, which means there is plenty of gas for at least the next twelve years, ready for exploration.
"Due to the country's political instability, international oil and gas companies are not ready to invest in Pakistan," according to Secretary for Petroleum Muhammad Mahmood.
Testifying before the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Petroleum, Mahmood further said that another reason for the unprecedented gas shortage is international sanctions.
He said that despite the government's interest in gas imports from Russia and Iran, it could not purchase the needed gas from these two countries because of international sanctions.
Mahmood further said that although the government was taking steps to secure gas from alternative sources, the issue was that all countries that authorities talked to were under the influence of some other country.
He added that such decisions were made at the political level and not by the ministry on its own.
How is Gov't Managing the Gas Issue?
Currently, gas load management has been seen as an optimum solution to the crisis. In Karachi, it was reported that gas will be provided three times a day, and there will be no gas for 16 hours.
The federal government, in early November, had planned gas to be supplied for three hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and three hours in the evening. However, the plan seems faulty because once everybody starts using gas at the scheduled time, the gas pressure drops tremendously, leaving millions of households with no gas or an extremely low supply of it.
It is also expected that gas prices will increase soon, but considering that the cost of living had already seen an unprecedented rise this year in Pakistan, the announcement has left many people in bad spirits.
"If there are five people in a family, they actually have to plan the whole day ahead and inform each other, like, if I am taking a shower I will tell my family not to turn on the gas stoves in the kitchen at that time. Similarly, if someone is making breakfast, no one is allowed to turn on the heater at that moment. The situation is really bad at present and we feel like we are living in caves now!" Naheen told Sputnik.
Meanwhile, the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGC) halted gas supply to industries across Karachi.
"In adherence to the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division) gas load management plan, that places domestic and commercial customers on top of the priority list, it has been decided to suspend gas supply to all general industries from November 15 to February 28, 2023," a statement issued by the gas company read.
The Sui Northern Gas Company's decision to suspend the gas supply, caused an uproar with the Industrial Association of Pakistan which rejected the government’s notice to not supply gas to industries in the winter season.
The president of the association said that they would appeal to the federal government to find ways to provide gas to industries.
Similarly, another report suggested that all CNG (compressed natural gas) stations in Sindh have already been shut down for two-and-half months due to gas shortages. However, with petrol costs running high, most of the motorbikes and many cars within the city run on CNG, and shutting down these stations will likely result in angry protests from millions who rely on gas for their daily commute.
As industries and the government face their own crisis due to the gas shortage, it is the common citizen that hurts the most during such a testing time.
Disrupting Everyday Life for Civilians
Sher Ali, a house cook working in one of Lahore's affluent districts told Sputnik, "[The] gas situation is quite bad in the house and during breakfast, lunch and dinner time there is almost no gas coming from the stoves, because everyone is using it during those hours. I have heard that in some areas, there is absolutely no gas available for people's usage. Meanwhile, the government keeps charging us, sending us big bills, but there is not enough gas available!"
Ali further elaborated that the government keeps announcing to the media that from next month the current gas supply will be further decreased, leaving people wondering how will they run their households at all.
"People are forced to purchase gas cylinders and really manage their gas usage, which is quite difficult. On top of that, the government says our country is running out of gas completely, so what will happen then? It is quite possible that in a month or two even this little gas pressure that we get today will stop completely," the cook told Sputnik.
There are many similar stories of how the gas crisis is disrupting everyday life for civilians. Children and adolescents have to go to schools and colleges without having proper breakfasts. People are reportedly buying breakfast and tea from nearby restaurants for their families.
Furthermore, houses and commercial buildings in cities across Pakistan do not have government-installed central heating systems, because the winters are relatively short, however, in Lahore and many smaller cities of Punjab, average night temperature in winter months can drop to about 3 °C (39 °F).
Similarly, in Islamabad, the winter temperatures vary from cold to mild, routinely dropping below zero. In the hills, there is sparse snowfall during the months of January and February. The sub-zero temperatures in the far north and in large cities like Quetta, Balochistan, are also regular occurrences.
Hence, with winter ahead, indoor heating and the availability of hot water is essential for millions of people living in those areas.
Civilians purchase electric and gas heaters and water geysers themselves and pay high bills out of their own pockets, with no government subsidies, but with the rising cost of electric bills and now the nationwide gas crisis, the healthcare and wellbeing of Pakistanis seem to be at risk.