I knew there would be electricity cuts, but I didn’t expect as many so often. Around the clock, neumerous times a day power goes down, usually for an hour a time but occasionally for longer periods. Known as ‘load-shedding’, it’s purely due to excessive demand and not the result of poor infrastructure. Either way Bangladesh just can’t cope and it makes living here even harder than usual.
It was bound to happen. Huge numbers of people pour into Dhaka every day and buildings are going up everywhere you turn. But this is more than simply the cities demand for power, it’s also due to the impact of environmental change. Almost on a weekly basis the Power Ministry make decisions about who gets what, sending their instructions to the DPDC (Dhaka Power Distribution Company) who are responsible for service delivery. It’s then down to them to manage the shortfall in demand and divide the available supply between both the urban and rural population as instructed. A big factor for consideration at the moment is boro farming (a type of rice) which is in season as the success of this crop now depends heavily on an electricity supply to support it’s irrigation system as envirnmental change has increased temperatures and the effects of the burning sun takes it’s tole, thanks to the hole in the Ozone.
Typical daily demand in Dhaka city is 2000MW, one day this week our allocation was 1200MW. As load-shedding manages the shortfall, electricity supply moves around the city, being switched off in one area and at the same time restored in another. This picture is repeated country wide. The Power Division, who recently opened a control room to monitor the situation reported a total generation of 3377MW over a peak period against a demand of 4200MW. However as with most things in Bangladesh there are many differing opinons with experts believing the typical realistic shortfall is more likely to be much higher. Meanwhile Bhutan has offered its surplus supply to Bangladesh to help ease the situation, but so far they have declined and a deal has not yet been done.
According to the locals there’s worse on the way as typically summer season weather conditions creates further interruptions in supply. We can expect massive thunder storms, strong winds and the heaviest monsoon rain anywhere in the world. The reality of living under these conditions is obvious and the result of the impact exhausting. It isn’t only your physical discomfort but the pattern of life which changes, forcing you to adapt your activity, dictated by supply. The enormous reduction in what you can achieve is crippling. I’ve found myself washing clothes at one in the morning and even then had to finished off by candle light.
Staying awake at work has become a real challenge. Early afternoon I struggle to keep my eyes open despite working in an air conditioned office. These cool conditions are ideal to stretch out and drift off, and being deprived of sleep the night before due to the stifling humidity can’t be ignored. As my concentration starts to wander and my eyes refuse to stay open the wicker sofa in the corner poses a huge temptation. I’ve tried walking around to wake myself up but open the office door and the huge leap in temperature and crippling humidity causes me to wilt and I sweat immediately. In-spite of this I usually make my way to Bishwajit’s office as he works alone. It might however be the hottest place in the building due to the huge photocopier in the corner. Either way he has a comfortable chair positioned under a fan in which I snooze for ten minutes or so while he continues to work quietly away. I had tried tucking myself away in reception but this proved too public as passing colleagues mistook my exhaustion for illness resulting in a lengthy explanation and reassurance that I was only tired.
Dhaka residents have two options to combat the electricity shortfall if they have the taka to pay for it. Firstly hooking up to a generator managed by their building. Although they aren’t available in every block of flats it seems most do now have them installed. The first thing you hear all around when the power goes down is their motors kicking into action. They supply enough power to run a couple of fans and strip lights and cost around three hundred taka a month (three pounds) but in reality the heat, pollution and noise they pump out only adds to the general discomfort of living in the city. The second choice is IPS: Independent Power Supply. The range of choice is dependant on strength of power and units are costed accordingly, starting at around the 10,000 taka mark (hundred pounds). Fitted professionally they charge themselves automatically and also power a couple of fans and strip lights for up to two hours, but they offer a more environmentally friendly option being cleaner and quieter to operate.
Most office workers in Bangladesh work a six day week, but some NGO’s follow the five day model set by Government ofices, with Friday and Saturday constituting the weekend. The remainder of the population work every hour they can, from one end of the week to the other. We’ve noticed a pattern has emerged, with Friday, the holy day, typically having markedly less interruption. We look forward to the weekend, and Friday in particular even more so than usual as we typically experience only a couple of cuts throught the day.