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Lights go out in Pakistan as energy-saving measures fail

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Most of Pakistan was left without power on Monday as a government power-saving measure backfired. The outage has caused panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.

It all started when power was cut during low-use hours overnight to save fuel across the country, officials said, preventing technicians from starting 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 failure in Pakistan’s power generation and distribution system.

Many major cities, including the capital Islamabad, as well as remote towns and villages in Pakistan, were without power for more than 12 hours. As the blackout continued Monday evening, authorities deployed additional police to markets across the country to provide security.

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

Earlier, the nationwide blackout left many in the country of some 220 million people without clean water as electricity-powered pumps failed to work. Schools, hospitals, factories and shops were without electricity due to the harsh winter.

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

According to the minister, electricity consumption usually drops overnight in winter, unlike in the summer months when Pakistanis turn to air conditioning, seeking respite from the heat.

“As an economic measure, we temporarily shut down our power generation systems” on Sunday evening, Dastgir said. When engineers attempted to turn the systems back on, a “voltage fluctuation” was observed, which “forced the engineers to shut down the power grid” stations one by one.

Dastgir insisted the outage was not a major crisis and power was being restored in phases. In many places and key businesses and institutions, including hospitals, military and government installations, backup generators have started up.

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

“We hope that the electricity supply will be fully restored this evening,” he said.

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

In Lahore, a closure notice was posted on Orange Line metro stations, with railway workers guarding the sites and trains parked on the tracks. It was unclear when the metro system would be restored.

Imran Rana, spokesman for the Karachi Electricity Company, said the government’s priority was to first restore power to strategic facilities including hospitals and airports.

Internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.org said network data showed a significant drop in Internet access in Pakistan, attributed to the power outage. He said metrics indicated connectivity was at 60% of mainstream levels as many users struggled to connect on Monday.

Pakistan derives at least 60% of its electricity from fossil fuels, while nearly 27% of electricity is generated by hydropower. The contribution of nuclear and solar energy to the national grid is around 10%.

Pakistan is grappling with one of the country’s worst economic crises in recent years amid dwindling foreign reserves. This forced the government to order shopping malls and markets to close at 8:30 p.m. to save energy.

Talks are underway with the International Monetary Fund to ease some conditions of Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout, which the government says will trigger further spikes in inflation. The IMF disbursed the last crucial tranche of $1.1 billion to Islamabad in August.

Since then, discussions between the two parties have fluctuated due to Pakistan’s reluctance to impose new tax measures.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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