Lights out in Pakistan backfires on energy-saving move – diplomacy

Shopkeepers and workers wait for electric power at a market after power cuts across the country, in Lahore, Pakistan, on Monday, January 23, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/KM Chaudary

Most of Pakistan was left without electricity for several hours on Monday morning as the government’s energy-saving measure backfired. The power outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.

Power was cut across Pakistan during low usage hours overnight to save fuel across the country, officials said, leaving technicians unable to get the system working once after dawn.

This outage is reminiscent of the massive power outage in January 2021, which at the time was attributed to a technical malfunction in the country’s power generation and distribution system.

Monday’s nationwide collapse left many people without drinking water as the pumps run on electricity. Power was cut off from schools, hospitals, factories and shops amid the harsh winter weather.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told local media on Monday that engineers are working to restore power supplies across the country, including in the capital, Islamabad, and have tried to reassure the nation that electricity will be fully restored within the next 12 hours.

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According to the minister, during the winter, electricity use typically drops overnight — unlike the summer months when Pakistanis turn to air conditioning, looking for a respite from the heat.

“As an economic measure, we have temporarily shut down our power generation systems” on Sunday night, Destager said.

He added that when the engineers tried to restart the systems, a “voltage fluctuation” was observed, which “forced the engineers to shut down the power grid” one by one.

He insisted that this was not a major crisis, and that electricity was being restored in stages. In many places, major businesses and institutions, including hospitals, military and government facilities, backup generators have started.

Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic hub, also had no electricity on Monday, as did other major cities such as Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore.

In Lahore, a closure notice was posted on Orange Line metro stations, where railway workers guarded sites and trains parked on the tracks. It was not known when the metro system would be restored.

Imran Rana, a spokesman for the Karachi power supply company, said the government’s priority is to “restore power to strategic facilities, including hospitals”, airports and other places.

Pakistan gets at least 60 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, while approximately 27 percent of its electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar energy to the national electricity grid is about 10 percent.

Pakistan is grappling with one of the country’s worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves. This forced the government earlier this month to order malls and markets to close by 8:30pm for energy conservation purposes.

Talks are underway with the International Monetary Fund to ease some conditions on Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout, which the government believes will lead to higher inflation. The International Monetary Fund issued the final, crucial payment of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August.

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Since then, talks between the two parties have fluctuated over Pakistan’s reluctance to introduce new tax measures.

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