Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s power grid fails after energy-saving measure goes awry

Nationwide outage left many without drinking water. Schools and hospitals had no electricit­y.

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Most of Pakistan was left without power Monday as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired. The outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.

Electricit­y was turned off across Pakistan during lowusage hours overnight to conserve fuel across the country, officials said, leaving technician­s unable to boot up the system all at once after daybreak. The outage was reminiscen­t of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in the country’s power generation and distributi­on system.

Many major cities, including the capital, Islamabad, and remote towns and villages across Pakistan were without electricit­y for more than 12 hours. As the electrical failure continued into Monday night, authoritie­s deployed additional police at markets around the country to provide security.

Officials announced late Monday that power was restored in many cities, 15 hours after the outage was reported.

Earlier, the nationwide breakdown left many in this country of some 230 million people without drinking water since pumps are powered by electricit­y. Schools, hospitals, factories and shops were without power amid the harsh winter weather.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told local media Monday that engineers were working to restore the power supply across the country and tried to reassure the nation that power would be fully restored within the next 12 hours.

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

“As an economic measure, we temporaril­y shut down our power-generation systems” Sunday night, Dastgir said.

When engineers tried to turn the systems back on, a “fluctuatio­n in voltage” was observed, which “forced engineers to shut down the power grid” stations one by one, he added.

He insisted that the outage did not constitute a major crisis and that electricit­y was being restored in phases. In many places and key businesses and institutio­ns, including hospitals, military and government facilities, backup generators kicked in.

By late afternoon Monday, Dastgir told reporters at another news conference that Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif had ordered an investigat­ion into the outage.

“We are hoping that the supply of electricit­y will be fully restored tonight,” Dastgir said.

Before midnight, power was back in Karachi, the country’s largest city and economic hub, and in many other major cities including Rawalpindi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore, the capital of Punjab province in the country’s east.

In Lahore, a closing notice was posted on Orange Line metro stations, with rail workers guarding the sites and trains parked on the rails. It was unknown when the metro system would be running again.

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

Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org said network data showed a significan­t decline in internet access in Pakistan that was attributed to the nationwide power outage. It said metrics indicated that connectivi­ty was at 60% of ordinary levels as many users struggled to get online Monday.

Pakistan gets at least 60% of its electricit­y from fossil fuels, while nearly 27% of the electricit­y is generated by hydropower. The contributi­on of nuclear and solar power to the nation’s grid is about 10%.

Pakistan is grappling with one of the country’s worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign-exchange reserves. This compelled the government this month to order shopping malls and markets closed by 8:30 p.m. to conserve energy.

Talks are underway with the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund to soften some conditions of Pakistan’s $6-billion bailout, which the government thinks will increase inflation. The IMF released the last crucial tranche of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August.

Since then, talks between the two parties have deadlocked because of Pakistan’s reluctance to impose new tax measures.

 ?? K.M. Chaudary Associated Press ?? SHOPKEEPER­S and workers wait for the power to come back on in Lahore, Pakistan. Many major cities, including the capital, as well as remote towns and villages were without electricit­y for more than 12 hours.
K.M. Chaudary Associated Press SHOPKEEPER­S and workers wait for the power to come back on in Lahore, Pakistan. Many major cities, including the capital, as well as remote towns and villages were without electricit­y for more than 12 hours.

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