Pakistan’s energy minister sought to downplay a power outage that left 220 million people without power

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pakistan’s-energy-minister-sought-to-downplay-a-power-outage-that-left-220-million-people-without-power
Pakistan’s energy minister sought to downplay a power outage that left 220 million people without power

Millions of people in Pakistan were plunged into darkness today (Jan. 23) due to a failure of the national grid.

At 7.34am local time, Pakistan’s energy ministry announced that there had been a “widespread breakdown.” In Peshawar, some people weren’t able to get drinking water because their pumps weren’t working without electricity. Lahore’s driverless Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) shut abruptly, forcing people to walk along the railway lines. In Pakistan’s most populous city, Karachi, doctors couldn’t attend to ailing patients at private clinics.

The outage happened as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired when technicians weren’t able to reboot the system after switching it off to save energy overnight. Even as 220 million people lost power, energy minister Khurram Dastgir Khan claimed the situation was under control, and restoration work was underway. “There was a fluctuation in voltage and power generating units were shut down one by one due to cascading impact. This is not a major crisis,” Khan said.

Facilities such as hospitals, schools, and businesses that have experience dealing with “load shedding”—the practice of deliberately cutting off power in certain areas for some time to conserve energy—have backup generators that can tide them for some time in the event of a power outage. But for most small businesses and individuals, blackouts immediately cause disruptions. Devices ranging from ATMs to gas filling stations, home security alarms, and even traffic lights can’t function, increasing the chance of accidents.

Why did Pakistan lose power?

This is the second major outage in four months, and one whose scale brought to mind the January 2021 blackout, which was blamed on a technical fault.

In today’s case too, power capacity is not the culprit. Pakistan has enough installed power capacity to meet demand. However, it lacks resources to run its oil-and-gas powered plants. The country’s oil and gas resources are almost completely depleted, making Pakistan dependent on energy imports.

Pakistan’s mounting debt is making it harder to purchase foreign oil and gas, especially as fuel runs scarce in light of the Russia-Ukraine war and a post-pandemic demand surge. Plus, the country lacks the funds to invest in improving transmission infrastructure and installing more power lines, which suffered damage from last year’s floods.

A delay in a much-needed International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout aggravates the country’s precarious position.

Pakistan’s power crisis, by the digits

220 million: People affected by the blackout on Jan. 23

117: Grids hit in the capital Islamabad this time

12 hours: How long it could take to fully restore electricity, according to the power minister

30%: How much Pakistani prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has asked the all federal departments to cut down their electricity consumption by. Federal employees even got a shorter work week to cut down on power usage

62 billion Pakistani rupees ($273 million): How much money the measure to close malls and markets early (by 8.30pm) and put a hard stop for weddings at 10pm will help the country save

Rs 38 billion: How much money switching to energy-efficient bulbs and fans will help the country save

$10.4 billion: ​​Total liquid foreign reserves held by Pakistan as of Jan. 13, less than half of what it had a year ago, affecting imports, most of which are energy bills

$1.1 billion: Funds that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved to be released to Pakistan in August last year but delayed as the two sides were stuck at an impasse over the conditions, including new tax measures

20 years: How long there has been no discovery of new gas reserves in Pakistan for

25%: Share of the population who have no access to electricity in general, largely in rural areas

Quotable: Citizens irked by Pakistan’s spending priorities

“While we spend billions on protecting our borders & interests (ahem) the country has officially run out of gas, dollars and now electricity. We never had education or infrastructure anyway. Pak’s a business for a chosen few families, the rest of us are mere sheep. #poweroutage” —Popular Pakistani radio and video jockey Anoushey Ashraf in a tweet

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