image source: The Guardian
Pakistan faced a huge power cut on Monday, January 23, due to a technical fault in the national grid across the country, leaving 220 million people in a complete blackout.
All major cities were without electricity such as Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Quetta, and Peshawar. The outage resulted due to a technical fault in the national grid in the southern part of the country.
The system frequency of the national grid went down at 7.34 a.m. (02:34 GMT) local time, “causing a widespread breakdown in the power system,” the country’s Energy Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan said in a statement on Twitter.
“System maintenance work is progressing rapidly,” the tweet added.
Khan told a local channel that the national grid switches off power generation units temporarily at night during the winter in order to conserve expensive fuel. The use of energy in the winter is less frequent than in the summer when temperatures are high and electricity is required for air- conditioning and fans.
When switches were individually turned on in the morning, there was variation in frequency in the southern part of the country between Jamshoro and Dadu, the towns in the province of Sindh, which caused the outage.
“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,” he said in an article by Express Tribune.
According to Khan, a limited number of power grids are back on and the restoration work will take about 12 hours. Addressing a press conference on Monday, the minister said that the authorities are working to resolve the issue and that electricity was restored in several parts of the country.
“Thankfully, the distribution system has not been affected, but we still need the power to switch on the generation plants, which can only be done one by one,” he told reporters, saying that a three-member inquiry committee had been formed to investigate the cause of the outage.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took serious notice of the outage and ordered a high-level probe into it. “Why did this power crisis emerge in the country?” he asked. Sharif directed Khan to furnish a report and resolve the issue.
The outage paralyzed the lives of 220 million people across Pakistan’s major cities. Traffic lights went down while rapid transit trains and the driverless Orange Line metro in Lahore were suspended because of the power cut, transport officials told the BBC.
Arshad, a senior official of the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, said a billion-dollar loss could result from the outage. “Our own loss for one day of non-production is more than 20 million Pakistani rupees ($87,000) across the industry,” he told Al Jazeera.
The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), an Islamabad-based public hospital, had to switch off its operation theatres due to the electricity breakdown, an official told BBC. Muhammed Pervez, a 54-year-old resident of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, said his ailing father had been waiting for more than an hour to see a doctor as the power outage had shut down the electronic systems at a private clinic.
“Some bigger hospitals do have generators to support but for a smaller place, even getting a token for patient consultancy is taking time since everything is being done manually,” he told Al Jazeera.
However, some businesses, industries, and homes often have their own generators, which kick in when the electricity is cut, BBC reported. Officials at Karachi’s Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), one of the largest public hospitals in Pakistan, said the outage would not affect work. Airports operated normally on Monday because they have their own standby power systems, according to a spokesman for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered all federal ministries to cut their energy use by 30% while his government ordered all markets to close by 8:30 p.m. and restaurants by 10 p.m.
The decision to cut energy consumption came after Pakistan announced that its foreign exchange reserves had shrunk to alarmingly low levels. As of December, the country’s total liquid foreign exchange reserves were $11.7 billion, which the central bank says is half the amount it held at the beginning of last year.
Pakistan generates most of its power using imported fossil fuels. As global energy prices have increased in the last year, further pressure has been put on the country's finances and its foreign reserves, which need to pay for energy imports.
However, electricity was restored after 18 hours but many areas witnessed darkness for longer hours. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered a high-level probe to investigate the reason for the breakdown. He apologized to the nation on behalf of his Government and vowed to fix the inconvenience that sank more than a million citizens of Pakistan into darkness.
On Tuesday, the federal cabinet chaired by the PM ordered the formulation of a comprehensive strategy to prevent prolonged power outages in the future and eliminate their causes. This was the second big outage in three months. The previous one was in October that took hours to restore.
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