A nationwide power outage in Pakistan left nearly 220 million people without electricity on Monday, threatening to wreak havoc in the South Asian country that already struggles with fuel shortages in the winter months.
The country’s energy ministry said in a statement that the country’s national power grid went down at 7:34 a.m. local time, “causing widespread outage in the power system,” initial reports said.
“Maintenance on the system is progressing rapidly,” the statement added.
A “limited number of power grids” in the capital Islamabad and the city of Peshawar have been restored to power, the ministry said.
It is unclear how long the outage will last and efforts are underway to restore power in several parts of the country.
In the city of Quetta, in Pakistan’s northern Balochistan province, the outage has affected all aspects of daily life, including hospitals, markets and households.
“The unavailability of generators is affecting services in health centers in the outskirts of the city of Quetta,” Balochistan health department director Dr. Imran Zarkoon, to CNN.
Zaheer, the owner of a clothing barge in Quetta, said they have no backup and are waiting hours for the electricity to be restored.
“The whole market of Jinnah Road is practically closed, because without electricity, customers do not go to 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 Shehbaz Sharif ordered all federal departments to cut their energy consumption by 30%, while his government ordered all markets to close at 8:30 p.m. and restaurants to close at 10 p.m.
The decision to cut energy consumption came after Pakistan announced that its foreign exchange reserves had dwindled to alarmingly low levels. In December, the country’s total liquid foreign exchange reserves stood at $11.7 billion, which is half the amount it had at the beginning of last year, according to the central bank.
Monday’s blackout is the most widespread power outage in Pakistan since 2021, when the country plunged into darkness for hours after a “sudden dip in the frequency of the electricity transmission system”.