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Electricity as the indicator of Human Development

The electricity crisis at the beginning of the season is matter of concern and tension to the people of the country once again. It is highly unfortunate fact that at the dawn of the summer season every year, we see the discussions on television shows, the strikes in the cities and articles being written on the issue of electricity shortage going on in a very typical way as an annual routine activity ending up without any answers. This year the shortfall has again risen to 5,500MW about 40 percent of the estimated peak demand of 13,500 MW, resulting in an average loadshedding of 11 hours across the country and 16 hours in the rural areas. While the devastation of the people’s daily routine due to the crisis is all-pervading and very prominent to note, here we want to highlight the long run impact of this problem which is that how the availability and usage of electricity by the people define the human development parameters of a country.

The Blog is an extract from our research article Energy Crisis in Pakistan, in which we have tried to present a detailed analysis of the crisis and its possible solutions.


Azhar Aslam & Shaista Kazmi

Life on Earth is driven by energy. Energy is more than a need. It is a fundamental requirement and energy per se is crucial to provide for adequate living such as food, water, health care, education, shelter and employment.

Electricity is the most convenient form of energy available to Human beings. This energy is fundamental to human well being and prosperity. The strong correlation between the availability of electricity and the level of human social development has been known since at least 1895 with the electrification of Niagara Falls with the then new polyphase alternating current (AC) technology invented by Nikola Tesla.

Therefore the energy crisis is a crisis of human development. It is indeed a matter of life and death. According to a survey done by Gilani Research Foundation nearly 53 percent of the Pakistan’s population remains without electricity far more than 8 hours daily throughout the year. Due to this crisis the daily life has come to a standstill. Even more ominously the shortage is endangering the future economic and social prospects of the country, putting its very fabric under strain.

As proven by the research there is a strong correlation between the availability of electricity and the level of human social development has been known since at least 1895. Several studies for example (‘Understanding the role of energy consumption in human development’ by Daniel M. Martinez and Ben W. Ebenhack and ‘An Introduction Linking Energy Use And Human Development’ by Manuel Garcia, Jr.) have reinforced this conclusion. These correlations suggest that tremendous gains in human development are possible for the world’s poorest, with small incremental access to energy.

What is the link between the availability of energy, in the form of electrical power, and the improvement to human development as measured by the United Nations? For 2002, the United Nations indicated that the electricity consumption per capita needed in order to experience a society with a medium level of human development was just over 1000 kilowatt-hours.

These studies provide clear evidence that for the use of 1000 kWh, people have risen above desperate poverty to a stable if rudimentary standard of living (e.g., Columbia, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Paraguay). An electrical energy use of 2000 kWh, which is close to the world average, can power a society that is a mix of modern technological dynamism and traditional agricultural life (e.g., Brazil, Grenada, Turkey, Iran). At 3000 kWh a high level of socio-economic development is found (e.g., Barbados, Chile, Lithuania, Malaysia). At 4000 kWh development approaches the “high plateau” of HDI near 0.9 (e.g., Hungary, Poland, Libya, Kazakhstan). At 5000 kWh, we should see modern technological societies without regional gaps or minority exclusions (Greece, Malta, Slovakia, Oman). Finally at 6000 kWh, we have entered the realm of the ultimate human development of nation-states (Spain, Hong Kong)

Interestingly some nations do a great deal with very little, like Cuba, which has an HDI rank of 52 out of 177 with an expenditure of only 1395 kWh/c. It is as if Cuba generates its social benefits with only 57.5% of the electrical energy one would expect. That is due to the wise choices.

From the ‘sustainable development’ point of view, there are three types of improvements to be pursued:

  1. Maximizing HDI at any given energy level;
  2. Increasing per capita electrical availability at use level of less than 2000 kWh/c;
  3. Decreasing per capita electrical use at levels of use more than 4000 kWh without loss of HDI.

Chi Seng Leung, associate researcher and Peter Meisen, President, GENI have noted in their article (How electricity consumption affects social and economic development by comparing low, medium and high human development countries) ‘ we are confident that increasing electricity consumption per capita can directly stimulate faster economic growth and indirectly achieve enhanced social development especially for medium and low human development countries. The threshold for moving from a low to medium human development economy appears to transition when 500kwh per capita is attained.’

Other parameters

Electricity consumption per capita has a strong correlation to other social development indices ( life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, and maternal mortality) and especially to economic indices (such as GDP per capita). Increasing electricity consumption per capita can directly stimulate faster economic growth and indirectly achieve enhanced social development— especially for low and medium human development countries.

As noted above in most cases, the threshold for moving from a low to a medium HDI economy transitions when 500kwh per capita is attained. When this minimal amount of electricity is used for pumping water, providing light, and refrigerating food and medicines, a community can significantly improve their living conditions. Electricity plays a key role in both economic and social development.

The Critical Thresholds

We therefore see that four minimal values can be arrived at.

  1. Use of 500 Kwh of electricity per capita per year for moving out of low human development
  2. Use of 1000 Kwh of electricity per capita per year for providing a stable but rudimentary level of living. This was recommended as the minimum level by UN in 2002.
  3. Use of 2000 Kwh of electricity per capita per year is world average and sustains a mixed modern technological and traditional agricultural society
  4. Use of 4000 Kwh or above for well developed societies.

Where does Pakistan stand ?

The per capita use in Pakistan is 430.183 kWh/ capita (2006 figures). Predictably we are below India and above Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Following statistics tell where we stand in relation to our neighbours.

91 China 2179 kWh
95 Iran 2160 kWh
160 India 466 kWh
165 Sri Lanka 348 kWh
177 Bangladesh 148 kWh
206 Afghanistan 35 kWh


Clearly as a Society we have not even achieved the first critical threshold of 500 kWh per capita per year use. No wonder that, a majority of our population does not even have stable rudimentary existence.

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