Power cuts in Pakistan are highlighting the country’s economic crisis

Power cuts in Pakistan are highlighting the country’s economic crisis

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Three weeks ago, Pakistani authorities ordered an early shutdown of all markets, restaurants and shopping malls as part of an emergency energy-saving plan as the country of 220 million struggled to pay arrears on energy imports and a to avert full payment. economic collapse.

But the measures were too little, too late. On Monday morning, the country’s overloaded electrical system collapsed in a wave of blackouts that began in the desert provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh but quickly spread to nearly the entire country, including the populous cities of Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi.

Power had been restored to many areas by late Monday, and residents had long since become accustomed to periodic power outages — known here as load shedding — as fuel shortages have become a chronic problem. Similar nationwide blackouts occurred twice before, in 2015 and 2021. But the sheer scale of this one came as a shock. Hospitals were left in the dark for hours, textile factories closed, and people rushed into gas stations to buy generator fuel. Cell phone traffic was cut off in many places.

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“The cut-off happens two or three hours a day, but I have never seen such a 24-hour outage,” Omar Salim, a shopkeeper in Karachi, told Dunya TV News. He said the government had promised to solve the country’s economic problems, but instead they had gotten worse.

“No power, no gas, no jobs, people waiting in long lines for flour trucks, inflation higher than ever,” he said. “It seems like we live in a stone age.”

Liaqat Ali, 50, a garage mechanic in this capital, said he used his small generator until he ran out of fuel but had no money to buy more. Then he turned on his cell phone’s flashlight to repair customers’ car engines at night, until he eventually died too.

“We’re already struggling to keep our business going with the daily blackouts, but when the lights go out for 20 hours and we have to close, it ruins everything,” Ali told The Washington Post. “For poor people like me, life has become miserable because of these corrupt rulers and politicians. They talk about fixing things, but they don’t do anything for the common people.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government, which took office in April after Imran Khan was removed from power in a parliamentary vote, has since struggled with the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. Experts have warned that the government is dangerously close to defaulting on its foreign debt.

“I would like to express my sincere regret for the inconvenience our citizens experienced yesterday as a result of the power outage. On my order, an investigation is underway to determine the reasons for the blackout. Responsibility will be established,” Sharif tweeted on Tuesday.

The pressing problem of recurring fuel and energy shortages is a particularly visible consequence of a larger and more complex problem with many moving parts. Pakistani authorities are trying to meet the basic needs of a large and impoverished country while facing heavy foreign pressure to pay long-standing debts and implement unpopular austerity measures in exchange for International Monetary Fund debt relief, which has now been postponed.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani rupee has fallen to an all-time low of 230 against the dollar, and the country’s foreign reserves shrunk by 50 percent last year. Experts say the country barely has enough left to pay for another month’s worth of fuel and energy imports. Inflation rose at unprecedented rates of 25 percent over the past year, hitting fuel and essential foods such as flour, rice and sugar particularly hard.

“Pakistan’s economic condition is critical. It has reached a very dangerous point,” economist Zubair Khan told Geo News TV on Tuesday. “The power outage reflects that. We now see the consequences of a fragile economy on a daily basis. Pakistan needs to take economic decisions seriously. It needs better economic management and it needs to stop prioritizing politics.”

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As public frustration and concern spread on Monday, officials said they were working hard to fully restore power, but offered several explanations for the cause of the unprecedented crash. Some utility officials blamed each other for not anticipating the cascading outage or delaying necessary repairs to the power system.

Officials said the recent order to close markets and eateries at night was expected to save the country about $273 million in electricity production, but experts said that amount fell far short of what was needed, and some business owners opposed the plan. Officials also said Sharif had ordered all government departments to cut electricity consumption by 30 percent.

However, the government was hesitant to take any harsh measures with new elections scheduled for later this year. Khan, a popular leader with a large following, has held large public rallies in recent months. He survived an assassination attempt on a rally in early November and has relentlessly criticized the Sharif government as corrupt and incompetent.

“We want this government to leave. Prices were high when Imran Khan was here, but now they are much higher,” Samia Khan, a housewife in Peshawar, a city in northwest Pakistan, told Bol TV News. On Monday, she said, “the lights went out as my kids got ready for school, and . . [the lights] did not arrive again until after midnight. I have to cook and clean in the dark, and the electricity and gas bills are getting higher and higher. It’s getting worse by the day.”

The collapse of the power system started at 07:30 on Monday morning in Sindh and Baluchistan and had reached every corner of the country by mid-morning. By evening, officials announced that power had been restored in many cities, but not across the country. Many parts of the country were without electricity for 12 hours.

According to some reports, the blackout was due to a power-saving measure to reduce power consumption Sunday night, making it more difficult to restart the system Monday morning. Others blamed poor conditions in old transmission equipment.

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