Richard Ginika Izuora
National grid failure threw millions of people in Pakistan into darkness on Monday.
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 lightscan’t function, increasing the chance of accidents.
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.