Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

No Ice Cream in Karachi

January 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments

We were all set to start the morning on a light-hearted note, but then we stumbled across this eye-popping (and curiously underreported) Richard Holbrooke quote:

“Karachi, the world’s largest Muslim city, 18 million people, had about four hours of electricity a day during the worst of the summer months. And we want to do things to help address that problem,” he said.

This reminded us of something we once heard Robert D. Kaplan utter about Pakistan, several years prior to the coining of the term “Af-Pak.” In predicting that Pakistan would no longer exist by roughly 2020, Kaplan said that much of the nation’s violence can be traced back to the government’s failure to deliver basic services. Who wouldn’t be inclined to riot, he said, if forced to endure a week’s worth of 110-degree days without electric fans or running water?

Alas, we can’t say we’re optimistic about the future of Karachi’s power grid. The local electricity company is now being run by a private equity firm from Dubai, an outfit that presumably has larger fish to fry back home as the city-state slips into the economic abyss. Meanwhile, the national overseer seems far more interested in fining minor scofflaws than actually improving infrastructure.

Some added perspective on the economic impact of poor electricity delivery here, in an article that notes that power in Pakistan also costs 40 to 60 percent more than in India, China, Turkey, and Bangladesh.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Captured Shadow

    Those 52,000 minor scoflaws had illegal connections to the grid. Hard to generate enough power for an extra 52,000 freeloaders (some of which were factories) and it kind of screws up the planning for capacity of transformers and generators.
    Sounds like they need a major electrification investment. What kind of generating facilities would work there? Coal?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Worth noting, though, that those 52k scofflaws were distributed throughout the country, not just in Karachi. And the average fine (c. $919) strikes me as pretty low, especially for companies. It’s almost like they’re making it worth folks’ while to try stealing.

    I’m guessing the problem has more to do with transmission than generation. Corruption makes it difficult to build worthwhile infrastructure–so much of your budget has to go toward greasing palms, and corners are cut to maximize profits. Not sure what the U.S. can do about that–not because we lack the know-how, but rather b/c I doubt the Pakistanis will let us meddle in such a manner.

  • Jordan

    That always seemed to me like one of our fundamental mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you don’t establish that you can provide basic services in a more effective manner than the previous blokes, the locals aren’t likely to cut you much slack with respect to the security situation.

    It’s always important to prove that you’re worth the bother.

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