Foreign Minister Murray McCully has offered Kiwi expertise in hydropower generation to Pakistan, which faces severe electricity shortage despite huge water resources.
He was in Islamabad last month to discuss ways and means of enhancing bilateral relations with his Pakistani counterpart Ishaq Dar.
Mr McCully said that New Zealand, which produces 50% of its electricity needs through hydel generation, can extend its expertise, skills and technology in assisting Pakistan in developing its energy potential.
It is interesting to note that the share of hydropower in New Zealand’s electrical energy dropped from 72.9% in 1990 54.9% to in 2007. Power generation through gas and coal increased substantially over this period, resulting in an increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
However, hydro resources still provide 82.5% of electricity generated from renewable sources including solar, wind and geothermal energy (heat from inside the earth), biomass from plants and hydropower from water.
The development plans for hydropower resources faced strong opposition. The hydro projects required the diversion of huge percentage of the river’s water, which affects wildlife habitat and big portions of farmland, and preventing recreational and tourist use. People opposing the project included local farming families, canoeists, recreational fishers, tourists, local businesses and conservationists.
According to a New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservative Authority (EECA) report, the Government is working towards meeting the target of 90% of electricity generation from renewable resources by year 2025. This would reduce dependence on petroleum, gas and coal resources and contribute towards cleaner environment.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is facing an acute energy crisis, causing economic shortfalls and security issues.
A report published recently by the National Bureau of Asian Research said that energy shortages have cost the country up to 4%of GDP over the past few years. Paucity of power has also led to the closure of hundreds of factories (more than 500 in the industrial hub city of Faisalabad alone), paralysing production and exacerbating unemployment. Additionally, they imperil the much-needed investments in development and infrastructure.
Hydropower resources of Pakistan are located in six regions, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit (Baltistan), Punjab, Sindh, the Pakistan part of Jammu & Kashmir and Balochistan.
Meanwhile, the nation has been convulsed by energy riots. Protestors, angered by unscheduled outages, have often resorted to violence, blocking roads and attacking the homes of political leaders.
Mr Dar told Mr McCully that his country was working on implementing short-term and long-term projects to overcome the energy crisis. He highlighted the hydel potential of River Indus, which at 3180 km, is the single largest water resource of Pakistan.
New Zealand’s involvement in the development of energy resources of Pakistan would open a new chapter in bilateral relations between the two countries but Islamabad and Wellington must weigh the political and social implications of the project.
Pakistan can take comfort from the presence of several technical and commercial teams from Australia, Britain, China, France, India, Japan, Korea, US and other countries, working on bilateral projects gaining economic benefits.
Taj Shaikh is a freelance journalist based in Auckland.