Long power cuts have disrupted daily life in the country, exposing the ruling party to more street protests.
Bangladeshis are seeing a return of extended power outages, up to 16 hours a day, primarily due to a shortage of natural gas, leading to public discontent.
Not too long ago, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared in March that her government had made available the supply of electricity to 100 percent of the country’s population.
Barely three months later, prolonged power cuts punched holes in Hasina's rhetoric, triggering a wave of criticism on social media and eventually leading to street protests.
Heavy load-shedding in all over Bangladesh for the last two days. Some areas don't get electricity for 16 hours a day! Govt say the high price of gas that is required to run power stations results this situation. Power minister couldn't say when the situation may improve.— Saif Hasnat (@saifhasnat) July 5, 2022
#Bangladesh always suffers from lack of planning and co-ordination between the state machineries. When a crisis is knocking at the door due to fuel shortage, #Loadshedding all over the country is creating panic. People are fearing of a #Srilanka like situation.— A R Al Masum 🇧🇩 (@Masum_AR_al) July 8, 2022
“Some areas outside Dhaka are experiencing 10 to 12 hours of power cuts,” Asif Bin Ali, a lecturer of sociology and political science department at North South University in Dhaka, tells TRT World.
“Even in the capital, we are experiencing eight to 10 hours of power cuts every day.”
The Bangladeshi government shrugs off blame and points at the shortage of natural gas in the wake of Russia’s military incursion in Ukraine.
“For my work, I have to depend on the internet. Power cut means no internet via broadband line. That means I have to stop working and wait for the electricity. Otherwise, I have to pay more to mobile companies for the internet,” he says.
“On summer days such as these, having no electricity means you are exposed to work in a harsh condition.”
Ali says solving the country’s energy crisis was a key promise by Hasina’s party since 2009, and when in late March this year the Awami League government announced that the goal had been achieved, “they were actually targeting the upcoming polls scheduled for 2023.”
“But now the government finds itself in an increasingly difficult situation to keep power plants operational since there isn’t enough gas available to do so, given that 52 percent of Bangladesh’s electricity is produced from natural gas,” he says.
From energy surplus to deficit
Gas makes up the majority of Bangladesh’s energy mix, as per the International Energy Agency, even though the share of other sources of energy production such as wind, solar and hydropower is also seeing a gradual increase.
Mohammad Tamim, an energy expert and a professor at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, says the country purchases liquified natural gas (LNG) to shore up its declining natural gas reserves.
But first the Covid-19 pandemic and then the Russian military operation in Ukraine made the situation volatile, he says.
Due to the pandemic & the war, the economic turmoils are affecting all countries. I believe if we maintain austerity and become responsible in using electricity, it will help us in the long run. Let's hope we remain united & face this crisis together like we always have.— Nasrul Hamid (@NasrulHamid_MP) July 6, 2022
“The outrage by the people is mainly because we got used to seven, eight years of uninterrupted power supply. But what’s not being realised here is that the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict resulted in very high energy prices,” he says
“Not a single country was prepared for such high prices and for this stretch of time.”
Relying on fuel imports was working well until the prices shot up and developing economies found it hard to match the LNG bids by wealthy European countries that were looking to move away from Russian-supplied natural gas.
Energy watchers are predicting a further increases in prices come winter as European countries would seek more LNG.
This is why Tamim says the energy crisis could last for a while.
“If Bangladesh hadn’t started to move away from being energy independent at a fast pace, especially in the absence of any plan to find alternate energy sources locally, the situation today may not have been as critical,” he says.