A nationwide power outage in Pakistan knocked 220 million people out of power on Monday, threatening to wreak havoc in the South Asian country already grappling with fuel shortages in the winter months.
The country’s energy ministry said in a statement that the country’s national grid went down at 7.34am local time, “causing a widespread breakdown in the power system,” according to initial reports.
“The system’s maintenance work is progressing rapidly,” the statement added.
The ministry said electricity had been restored to a “limited number of networks” in the capital, Islamabad, and the city of Peshawar.
It is unclear how long the power outage will last, and efforts are underway to restore power to various parts of the country.
In the city of Quetta, in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, the outage has affected all aspects of daily life, including hospitals, markets and homes.
“Due to the unavailability of generators, services in health centers on the outskirts of Quetta are being affected,” Balochistan’s director of health department, Dr. Imran Zarkoon, told CNN.
Zuhair, a clothing store owner in Quetta, said they have no backup and have been waiting for hours to restore electricity.
“The entire Jinnah Road market is practically closed. Without electricity, customers do not go to the shops,” he said.
The outage comes as the country’s fragile economy continues to grapple with multiple challenges, including a severe energy crisis.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif ordered all federal departments to cut their energy consumption by 30%, while his government ordered all markets to close by 8:30pm and restaurants by 10pm.
The decision to cut energy use came as Pakistan announced that its foreign exchange reserves had dwindled to alarmingly low levels. In December, the country’s liquid foreign exchange reserves totaled $11.7 billion, half the amount it held at the beginning of last year, according to the central bank.
Monday’s blackout is the most widespread blackout in Pakistan since 2021, when the country was plunged into darkness for hours after a “sudden drop in frequency in the power transmission system”.