Pakistan’s premier apologises to nation for power cut affecting millions

Many of the country’s 220 million population were without drinking water as pumps powered by electricity also failed to work.

Pakistan Power Outage
Pakistan Power Outage

Pakistan’s prime minister apologised on Tuesday after a day-long power blackout left millions without electricity during harsh winter weather after an energy-saving initiative by the government.

Monday’s outage affected schools, factories and shops.

Many of the country’s 220 million population were without drinking water as pumps powered by electricity also failed to work.

In key businesses, main hospitals, military and government facilities, backup generators kicked in.

Power was mostly restored, though some parts of the country still experienced power cuts on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif tweeted: “On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to power outage yesterday.

“On my orders, an inquiry is underway to determine reasons of the power failure.”

At a press conference earlier on Tuesday, energy minister Khurram Dastgir defended the government’s handling of the collapse of the grid.

And he applauded engineers and technicians for their efforts to boot up the system. He made no reference to the energy-saving measure by the government backfiring.

Authorities had turned off electricity during low-usage hours on Sunday night to conserve fuel, according to an energy-saving plan. Efforts to turn power back on early on Monday morning led to the system-wide meltdown.

“Today, at 5:15 in the morning, power was fully restored,” Mr Dastgir said.

He blamed the outage on a technical glitch but also floated a “remote chance” that it was caused by hackers targeting the country’s grid systems.

Pakistan Power Outage
People visit a market, where some shopkeeper are using generators for electricity during a national-wide power breakdown, in Islamabad, Pakistan (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

The minister also expressed faith in Mr Sharif’s three-member committee, which is expected to complete a preliminary investigation within days.

He cautioned that some regions may still face “routine power outages” this week as Pakistan’s two nuclear power plants and coal plants have yet to come fully online.

The outage was reminiscent of a massive blackout in January 2021, attributed at the time to a technical fault in Pakistan’s power generation and distribution system.

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%.

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader at the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, criticised the government for mismanaging the country’s economy and said the outage was a reflection of the government’s incompetence.

Grappling with one of its worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves, Pakistan is in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to soften some conditions on a 6 billion dollar (£4.8 billion) bailout.

Mr Sharif’s government says the harsh conditions will trigger further inflation hikes.

The IMF released the last crucial tranche of 1.1 billion dollars (£893 million) to Islamabad in August, but since then, discussions between the two parties have oscillated due to Pakistan’s reluctance to impose new tax measures.

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