Nationwide blackout

Even medical facilities reported issues with their backup bundles

January 25, 2023

A massive nationwide power outage left the country in darkness, with many areas even reporting candle shortages. It took more than 12 hours to do away with the outage, as gradual power supply started feeding the grids. However, many areas were still without power even after a good 15 hours counting down from Monday morning. Many areas also began losing Internet and telephone connectivity as backup power systems on communications towers and at server stations died down. Even medical facilities reported issues with their backup bundles. The length of the blackout also caused a run on fuel, as businesses and residential consumers, already worried by a potential fuel shortage, now needed to refill and stock up for their generators.

The only silver lining was that it occurred in winter, when people don’t need power for their fans or air conditioning. But that limited consolation was quickly wiped out when people found out why the outage happened in the first place. Power plants were apparently ‘turned off’ during low usage hours as a cost-saving measure. That would have been fine — even commendable — if somebody had remembered to stress-test the aging grid’s ability to handle the surge from the plants being turned back on. Also worth noting is that Federal Minister for Energy Khurram Dastagir had the unique honour of informing the nation, twice in barely three months, that half the country has gone dark due to the incompetence of people who he is supposed to be in-charge of. It was a fingers-crossed situation on Monday as approximately 6,600 megawatts of coal and 3,500MW of nuclear plants reignited on their own, and took all the time on earth to come full blown.

After the October outage, it was hoped that the government would opt for a quick-fix solution, and do away with the technical and structural discrepancies. But, perhaps, that is not our style of governance, and now there are indications that blackouts can be the new modus operandi if fuel and cash crises persist. Futile to talk of any self-censure or retribution in the corridors of power. With electioneering ahead, there won’t be many ears to listen to public grievances in the blackout domain.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2023.

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