Interview with Yadullah Hussain

yadYadullah Hussain joined Dawn as a trainee sub-editor in 1993, working at what was then called the Tuesday Review. He says, “I had the unique privilege of working under Ahmed Ali Khan, editor in chief of Dawn at the time. Through my frequent interactions with him I learnt the value of journalism and the quest for the truth. He once said to me, ‘I don’t want geniuses, I want hard working people.’ I took that to heart and it worked well for me as I am not the sharpest tool in the shed! The only way I could get ahead was to work hard.

“I also had the pleasure of working with extremely talented individuals at Dawn, but foremost was the Tuesday Review editor Uneza Akhtar, who gave me tremendous freedom to write on varied subjects and express myself. I would like to believe that at The Review we created a very special literary haven that showcased Pakistan’s artists and literary figures.

“I left Dawn in 1998 and went to Dubai and spent just over a decade at various monthly and daily publications. Before I moved to Canada, I was managing editor of a regional business newswire and data provider Zawya.com.”

Yadullah Hussain migrated to Canada in 2010, and luckily got a job at the venerable Financial Post, where he is the Energy Editor. The FP is the business section of the National Post, a part of Canada’s largest chain of newspapers. He covers Canadian oil and gas sector and wider global energy issues.

3Recently Yadullah was awarded the Newsmaker of the Year award given by Global Petroleum Survey recognising the services of a journalist covering the oil and gas sector. He says, “It was for the work the entire FP Energy team had done over the past year and I share this award with my colleagues Claudia Cattaneo and Geoff Morgan.”

Here is what he says about the electricity crisis in Karachi:

There are heatwaves, floods and other climatic episodes in many countries, but we almost never hear of similar death tolls. Why? Because the authorities plan better and there are systems in place to limit loss of life. Politicians and emergency officials are held accountable and lose their jobs in the event of failure or slow response. So yes, heatwaves can be uncomfortable, but with some foresight and precaution the tragic loss of life could have been avoided.

”These events can now be predicted with some degree of accuracy in advance and should not have caught us unawares.
“I have not lived in Pakistan for some time but the issue of power blackouts has been a common occurrence since I was growing up in the 80s and well into the 1990s.

“There is no political will in Pakistan to resolve the issues. According to the Asian Development Bank power shortages cut Pakistan’s GDP by 2 per cent in 2013. Access to power sources is crucial for any meaningful business activity.

“I follow the global economy quite closely, and I feel Pakistan has all the right ingredients to be a dynamic, emerging economy: growing, young population, natural resources, geographic location and industrious people.

“But we falter in key areas: instability, lack of education and inadequate power generation. These are central to Pakistan’s prosperity. But I have yet to see any meaningful policy statement or strategy that focuses on these shortcomings.

 

“Karachi, as Pakistan’s economic engine, needs power to build manufacturing bases, trade and services industry. But the political parties, many who claim to represent the interests of Karachi and Sindh do not have a plausible strategy that addresses the issue.

Egypt has made resolving power shortages a central plank of its economic policy. The country is has commitments from investors, despite the political instability in the country. Egypt’s population is 82mn. Pakistan’s population is 182 million – investors would be keen to invest in the country with such a large population if only they can see some commitment to resolve the energy crisis.

“Conserving energy is a strong pillar that could help us reduce energy consumption. Energy intensity, which means a unit of power need to produce a unit of GDP, is declining across the world.

Simple things such as higher rates during peak week day hours (say 8-5pm), and significantly reduced rates during weekends and nights is a powerful financial incentive for home consumers to manage their consumption, and ensure the system is not burdened during peak time. It is a common practice in many countries. Manufacturing bases and services would have their own affordable rates that are not too onerous but stimulate development.

Conservation is not the silver bullet that would solve the crisis, but it goes a long way in lowering electricity use, reduce pollution, and a household’s import bill. Conservations boils down public awareness. Part of conservation also includes consumption of water.

“However, energy consumption will rise as the population is growing, and that means investments in increasing electricity capacity would remain key to meeting demand.

 

“I think unauthorised use of consumption is a problem, but that extends to federal and provincial agencies who don’t pay their bill, or pay them quite late. Theft places undue burden on the system, and could jeopardize the entire infrastructure. It follows that if the company is not able to recover its costs, it would charge those who are within the billing system much higher prices.

“The more people pay their bills, the lower the cost per unit of power will be – it’s simple economics. We cannot isolate the power issue and try to resolve it without addressing greater challenges facing Pakistan. At every turn, the authorities have failed to come up with a strategy; bungled every opportunity. The economic plans are poorly executed and do little to improve the standard of living of its citizens. The power sector is part of that. So is healthcare (which led to so many deaths as hospitals did not have the funds to provide adequate care).

I am surprised that nobody has lost their job even though more than a 1,000 people have died. Pakistanis deserve better.
“There is no short-term solution, apart from investing to raise power generation capacity to meet the needs of a growing population. In the short-term, whatever maintenance work can be done to improve the infrastructure is also necessary.

Also, we need to move away from using crude oil as our primary source of electricity consumption. Even at today’s prices, oil is the most expensive energy source for power, yet 36 percent of Pakistan’s power sector relies on crude oil. Contrast that to the global average of 5 percent. Pakistan consumes around 430,000 barrels per day of crude oil, which no doubts takes a huge chunk of our import bill.

“Most countries are either moving towards natural gas or renewable energies such as solar and wind, and Pakistan must follow that path. The purchase of liquefied natural gas from Qatar was a good move, provided we got at a good price. Some analysis shows $7 per mBtu unit which is quite good.

“While Pakistan’s natural gas production is rising there is still a 912 billion cubic feet shortfall according to a report by Pakistan government.

“The good news is that Pakistan has 105 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, according to a recent report by the US Department of Energy. As you know, production of shale gas (and shale oil) has transformed the U.S. economy and turned it into a natural gas powerhouse in the space of a decade. Pakistani authorities should tap its friends in the Middle East, who have experience in developing hydrocarbons, to invest in our shale gas reserves – of course giving them with the right incentives? The long-term approach should be for Pakistan to monetise the country’s shale gas reserves at least for domestic consumption.
However, high natural gas subsidies are an issue for investment, and would be a politically sensitive issue. But subsidies are inefficient, often don’t impact the most vulnerable and lead to excess consumption.

Nuclear power can also be a potential source, although plans to build two nuclear reactors so close to the Karachi population are worrisome.

“At a broader level, energy sources and its link to the environment is now a central global issue. Many believe the heatwave in Karachi is part of significant climate change that’s sweeping across the world, and no country is immune: take for examples droughts in California and flooding in the UK.

“These climatic changes is compelling the world to move to a low-carbon energy model. Which means solar and wind would be an increasingly popular way to source energy. This can be a great way for Pakistan to attract investments and technical expertise from outside, create domestic, high-paying jobs and diversify the country’s energy sources.”