With the advent of winter especially progressive and prosperous nations have their own agendas; shopping for the new season, resetting their home interiors, warm clothing, and so on and so forth. On the other hand, in Pakistan, the agenda is the one and the same, prepare for the misery that lies forth the whole three or four months. Television campaigns will start conveying the message to warm yourselves up with warm clothes, dry fruits, rubbing your hands together, constant rocking and pretty much everything that does not run on gas.

The winter season for us now has boiled down to shivering, waiting in long lines at gas stations and eating frozen food all week long. The luxuries of warmth and fresh delicious food are a novel now.

If we go back about a decade and a half, winter season used to be the time for savings, economical electricity bills, low power consumption, which meant lighter load on the grids. Consumption of food decreases comparatively in winter, its a natural phenomenon.

However, the table has now turned for the worst in the past several years. Instead of using an electric heater which is much cheaper than using an electric fan in the summers, we are now forced to use either electric heaters that consume power equivalent to electric iron only as it is used 10 to 12 hours a day. That alone drops the A-bomb at the start of the month. Then there is the cost of running refrigerators all day long in winters to preserve the food because there is no gas to cook with. So, now winters cost even more than summers and for those who plan their livings around a tight budget, expenses go north of impossible.

The reason of such problems is not the overload or the consumption but the wrong priorities. The reason is natural gas and central part of lives in winter, the main cog that runs the national machinery in the frosty season.

Pakistans natural gas reservoirs house around 30 trillion cubic feet, out of which half we have already gulped down. The annual production for FY13 was clocked at 1.5 billion cubic feet and the consumption at 1.2 billion cubic feet, whereas the rest of the chunk was lost in transformation, transmission and distribution. In 1971 when natural gas was only used by industrial and power sectors, some genius thought it would be sane enough to supply the domestic sector in addition to industrial. Instead of investing it on power production to supply the households with cheaper electricity that could single-handedly address the domestic needs. The short-sighted decision led to not only stoves running on gas but also water-geysers, heaters, pressing irons, generators and so many other things.

However, it was not all. How could it be? We did not have any problem of gas outages in the 90s or even early-to-mid 2000s. We did not foresee the repercussions of what we were consuming or how we were consuming it. So, another genius in the government decided to feed the transportation on the same fuel that was being produced around 700 to 800 billion cubic feet a year, barely meeting our industrial and needless domestic demands.

And when it comes to cheap, Pakistanis are always at the forefront. The CNG trend spread like fire in the jungle and in a blink of an eye almost all vehicles were on gas. Now, two of the main consumers of natural gas are domestic and transportation. Other countries using gas for transportation are Iran, Argentina, Brazil and India; Pakistan is second after Iran. Irans population density is 48 people per sq. km and Pakistans is 234 per sq. km. Iran has 2.86 million cars running on gas whereas Pakistan has about 4 million.

As of FY13, Pakistans domestic usage is 23 percent and transportation is 8 percent, the latter uncalled for when natural gas was first discovered, but people will never understand what is paying the heavy toll just for their inexpensive fuel.

Fertilizer production is affected because of scant gas supply, the most important ingredient that feeds all the crops of a country that prides itself for being agricultural. That affects the production of crops and subsequently its prices in the market. Next comes production industry like textiles, one of the largest exported good. This sector is in a jam and the import-export deficit has increased. Power industry is also the victim of our greed for cheaper fuel and hot water.

Now that we have exhausted all the austerity measures from cutting short the supply to domestic sector to CNG stations to industrial sector, we must start thinking like those who know what they are doing. Instead of looking at the short-term goals we should consider alternative energy sources. It must sound a cliché but alternative energy is the only way forward and us out of this constant agony.

Sindh has a vast terrain filled with coal and China has shown interest in extracting and utilizing it. But there is one thing that we all have neglected to this day, the fast flowing water streams in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan. We always are looking for either short-term goals or immediate and total remedies that do not even see the light of day. If we start installing small scale water turbines at River Kabul, River Swat and other small to medium sized water streams where the flow even in spring and autumn reaches around 50-60 kmph, enough to run a turbine to generate enough electricity for a whole village. If this is implemented, half of KP and GB can be self-capable of generating their own power. That means lesser load on the rest of Pakistan. Then there are much discussed alternatives like bio-gas, in which the government can aid the local bio-gas producers, solar energy and wind mills, etc. The government should revise their petroleum and natural gas policies to discourage the usage of CNG and encourage the sales of petroleum products. But we as individuals should look into ourselves. Generators, irons, light bulbs on gas, running geysers 24/7 without purpose, heaters when they are not needed are all compounding the problem.

Although it was our leaders who made some decisions without even a modicum of thought, the results of which we are reaping to this day, we have to take up the challenge and articulate with a solution.

The author can be reached at <khalidusman@hotmail.com>

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