Who turned out the lights?

One thing you will rapidly notice after coming to Pakistan from the West is that power cuts are a fact of life here.  Back home in the UK power cuts happen very occasionally, perhaps two or three times a year, and usually for not more than a few seconds.  Once the power went for half an hour and people on our street were so startled that they went out into the road to see what the problem was.  We spent more time with our neighbours on that single day than we would normally in a whole year, which, when I come to think of it, is rather sad.

 But I digress.  I’m writing about power cuts, not the lack of a concept of community in modern Western culture.

 In our city in Pakistan the electricity goes out several times a day, and when it goes out it stays out for an hour or more.  In an average day we have power cuts between 6am and 7am, 9am and 10am, 12pm and 1pm, 3pm and 4pm, 6pm and 7pm, and between 9pm and 10pm.  That’s a total of 6 hours of the day – and those are just the waking hours; power cuts also happen at night.

 And that’s just a normal day.  Occasionally, when there are major roadworks in the neighbourhood or when a transformer blows, the power can be cut for several hours at a time.  The longest cut we ever experienced was when the transformer on our street exploded with a blinding flash: we were without electricity for a full 12 hours.

 I don’t know what the reasons are for Pakistan’s epic electricity shortage, other than what I read in the Economist and elsewhere, which is that some rather important people don’t pay their electricity bills.  This is pretty tragic because, domestic inconvenience aside, power cuts play havoc with Pakistani industry.  Can you imagine running a factory profitably when your machines will only be able to function for two-thirds of the day?

 For us this is an inconvenience which can mostly be avoided by adjusting our schedule and by installing a UPS – essentially two car batteries connected to a small box which flicks over when the power goes, enabling us to run a few crucial appliances (lights and fans) on battery power.  Not a big deal, although it does make us envious of how easy life is in Western countries.  The things we take for granted, eh?

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