Pakistani households hit by natural gas shutoff

By Mohammad Saleem  |  Updated Jan. 22, 2014 at 3:37 PM
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FAISALABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 22 (UPI Next) -- After disrupting Pakistan's textile industry for two weeks, a government shutoff of natural gas supplies is taking a toll on households. The Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Co., the state-run company in charge of the country's gas supply, suspended delivery to the textile industry and other sectors Dec. 10 in an effort to provide smooth winter service to households. Two weeks later, after protests from textile exporters, the government restored 23 percent of their supplies, cutting into household gas. Protests against the household shortage have broken out in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Sialkot and Gujranwala. Some protesters cooked food on the streets using wood for fuel. Nasreen Babar, a Lahore housewife, told UPI Next relations with her husband, Babar Ali, and even her children were souring because the subsequent gas shortage prevented her from cooking meals. She said she and her husband have argued several times in recent weeks. "I stayed out of my house with my children because of quarreling with my husband, who threw us out after a delay in food preparation," she said. "When relatives and neighbors intervened, we returned home after four days." Mehmooda Bibi, who works as a maid in four houses in different parts of Faisalabad, told UPI Next she could not even boil water for tea because gas pressure was so low. She said she had been bearing the brunt of the shutdown in delays in sending her son and two daughters to school because she cannot give them breakfast on time, and late arrival at the houses where she washes clothes, floors and dishes. "My husband, Umer Hayyat, is a power-loom worker and receives about 8,000 rupees [$76] monthly," said Bibi, who earns about $43 a month. "It has become difficult for us to make both ends meet because we have been spending more on wood to cook food to feed our children." Hayyat Khan, a wood stall owner in Gujrat, a city in Punjab province, told UPI Next the low gas pressure had doubled his daily income in the last month. He said he even had customers from well-off families who had gas connections and microwave ovens. "Low pressure of gas and unscheduled loadshedding of electricity have been forcing people to make alternative arrangements for food preparation," he said "Wood is an easy and cheap method." Textile exporters still have reservations about the gas supply. "The government has not realized so far that the textile sector, providing jobs to millions of laborers, must be given priority," said Mohammad Jawed Bilwani, former central chairman of the Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which represents the hosiery and knitwear industry. Instead of creating jobs, the government is depriving people of employment by suspending or reducing gas supplies, he told UPI Next. "If the government provides a full load of gas to industry, millions of workers will get jobs," Bilwani said. Bilwani, a Karachi-based textile exporter, told UPI Next the gas supply was still suspended in some Punjab cities, including Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Multan. The textile industry in Karachi is also facing a gas shutoff one day a week. "Now only 23 percent of the sanctioned load is being given to Punjab industry," Balwani said, referring to the amount of gas allocated to the textile industry, "and the units in Karachi have been facing low pressure even on days specified for supply of gas." He said textile mills were not depriving domestic consumers of natural gas. It is the responsibility of the government, he said, to resolve issues for both sectors. Ilyas Mehmood, chairman of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association, told UPI Next the textile sector would lose $2 billion and leave more than 2 million laborers jobless if the government did not respond. He said the government had restored supplies to receive duty waivers from the European Union. The textile industry is a mainstay of Pakistan's economy, bringing in $13 billion annually in foreign exchange. Millions of workers earn their livings directly or indirectly from the textile sector. According to the Ministry of Textile Industry, it is the country's largest industrial sector, generating about 55 percent of Pakistan's export earnings and contributing 8.5 percent of the gross domestic product. It employs about 39 percent of the worker population. In its Textile Policy 2009-14, the government vowed to increase exports to $25 billion and double employment during the period. Workers say they are happy about the restoration of the gas supply, which sent them back to work, but criticize the cuts to homes. Sadiq Mohammad, who works at a garment factory in Lahore, told UPI Next he was back at work after being laid off for two weeks because of the gas suspension. However, he said low pressure to domestic consumers was hurting daily life, especially for children. He said his two sons could not get to school on time. "My wife has been finding it difficult to prepare food for them," he said. Zia Shah, a garment manufacturer in Faisalabad, told UPI Next that exporters had been receiving gas only 6 hours a day to run their gas-fired machinery. That supply is not sufficient to compete with China, India and Bangladesh in international markets, he said. "Strenuous efforts must be put in place to provide a smooth supply of gas to the industry throughout the year that will ultimately increase the export volume of Pakistan even more than $25 billion," he said. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, minister of petroleum and natural resources, told reporters Jan. 10 that gas demand this year was 30 percent higher than usual because of colder-than-normal winter weather, the daily newspaper Dawn reported. He said Punjab experienced particularly extreme weather conditions, and the government decided to meet the increased demand of residential consumers by reducing supplies to other sectors, such as the soap industry, and suspending gas supplies to compressed natural gas stations for two months. Abbasi predicted there would be surpluses available by the time the current government completes its term in five years.

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