Blackout in Pakistan: A cash-strapped nation shuts off electricity to save money and then can’t turn it back on

Power outage in Pakistan
A vendor uses a reverse light at his stall at a market during a nationwide power outage in Islamabad, Pakistan January 23, 2023.

Anjum Naveed/AP

Islamabad – Hospitals, schools, factories and tens of millions of homes across Pakistan were left without power on Monday after the country’s power grid suffered a nationwide outage. The huge blackout, just as parts of the country are struggling through a harsh winter, was blamed by the country’s federal energy minister, Khurram Dastgir-Khan, on a power surge crippling the grid.

To conserve Pakistan’s rapidly dwindling fuel supplies, Electricity is often turned off during off-peak hours overnight, especially in winter when demand is greatest. Dastgir-Khan told the Geo News network that power was cut Sunday night, but when technicians tried to turn the system back on at dawn, the network went down.

As of Monday night, power was still being gradually restored, but the blackout highlighted the creaky energy infrastructure of the country of 220 million, which is already in the midst of an economic crisis fueled by overwhelming national debt and depleted foreign cash reserves.

Like much of Pakistan’s national infrastructure, the power grid is in urgent need of modernization. The government, which has jumped from one International Monetary Fund bailout to the next just to keep the country afloat, says these kinds of investments just aren’t possible.

Power outage in Pakistan
A shopkeeper starts a generator at a store during a nationwide power outage in Karachi, Pakistan January 23, 2023.

Fared Khan/AP

Pakistan has enough power generation capacity to meet demand, but lacks the resources to keep its oil and gas-fired power plants running, and the power sector is so heavily indebted that it cannot afford to invest in infrastructure like invest in new power lines.

The blackout affected large parts of the country, from the financial center of Karachi to the capital, Islamabad.

In Peshawar, a city of more than 2.3 million people, some residents said they couldn’t get drinking water because the pumps are powered by electricity. Telecom companies and several hospitals said they had to turn on backup generators.

“My children and I couldn’t take a shower this morning because there was no water due to the electricity crisis,” said bank official Hassan Imran in Karachi. “They went to school and I came into the office without a shower.”

Opposition leaders blamed the government. Former human rights minister and senior member of the opposition Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, Shireen Mazari, said in a tweet that the blackout was evidence that an “incompetent gang of crooks” was bringing down the country.

As Pakistan desperately tries to ease its energy crisis, it has turned to a controversial helping hand.

Russian Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov was in Pakistan during the blackout for a meeting on bilateral cooperation. A statement released by the government of Pakistan said Shulginov had met with Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif and both countries had “agreed on the importance of (the) energy sector in the development of bilateral economic and trade relations in long-term gas from Russia to Pakistan.” ”

Oil and other energy commodities account for most of Pakistan’s federal import bill.

With domestic gas reserves being quickly depleted, the country has begun rationing supplies to residential and commercial consumers. Local media have also reported that oil supplies remain tight as the government struggles to pay for imports.

A Russian government spokesman later said Pakistan would pay for all purchases in the “currencies of friendly countries” and suggested a possible arrangement that could allow Pakistan to settle bills in something other than US dollars, which is the international standard, however Few and widespread are between in the Pakistani treasury. Blackout in Pakistan: A cash-strapped nation shuts off electricity to save money and then can’t turn it back on

Rick Schindler

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