Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Chronic energy shortages plague South Asia region


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 5 percent 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 US 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 percent growth in the garment industry. The sector constitutes more than three-fourths of the country's total exports.

Earlier this month almost half of Bangladesh was plunged into darkness for several hours as the national electricity grid tripped shutting down most of the country's power generation units.

With polls scheduled for next January, the government is keenly aware that power will be a key election issue.

Experts say south Asian nations are failing to add the capacity needed to keep up with economic growth, pointing out that China adds more than 28,000 megawatts of capacity on average annually compared to only 4,500 megawatts in India.

India has been hailed for its rapid development but critics say 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 10 hours at a stretch. Temperatures hit the mid-40s?C during May and June.

In some rural areas there is electricity for only two hours a day or none at all.

Less than 50 percent of households nationwide have access to electricity compared with 97 percent in China.

Experts blame bureaucracy, policy uncertainty and lack of political will and say some 47 power plants are behind schedule.

Lack of capacity combined with soaring demand also afflicts Karachi, Pakistan's biggest industrial city, where frequent cuts hamper industrial production.

"Industry is suffering billions of dollars losses due to poor electricity services," said M.A. Jabbar, vice president of the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

"This is not only adding to the cost of production. We are [also] compelled to face export orders cancellations," he said.

Pakistan enjoyed a power surplus until last year but this year it is faced with a daily shortfall of 415 megawatts expected to rise to 1,457 megawatts next year.

Although there are plans to install as many as 45 hydro and thermal power projects with a capacity of about 12,000 megawatts, they are expected to take years to become operational.

"I don't think the government will be able to get them installed quickly and we see the power scenario moving from bad to worse," said Syed Shahnawaz Nadir, research analyst at Noaman Abid Securities.

Sri Lanka is struggling to cope with an 8 percent to 10 percent annual increase in demand forcing the country to turn to expensive thermal power.

"Insufficient capacity, resulting from excessive delays in the implementation of power generation expansion and the non-implementation of low cost, large-scale power sources, such as coal power, has led to a high electricity tariff and frequent power shortage," the Central Bank said in a recent report.

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