Pakistan experienced widespread power outages on January 23, 2023, that lasted up to 15 hours in some areas and almost 24 hours in others, affecting millions. Homes, hospitals, and industries were operating at limited capacity or shut down completely. All commercial activities were disrupted during the day as the outages crippled mobile services and the internet. Major cities such as the capital Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi were plunged into darkness as the sun went down. Although electricity was restored in some regions within a few hours, the rest of the country resumed normal operations later in the evening.
A satellite image of the region showing the yesterday's blackout pic.twitter.com/rsLxYLyfc8
— Un.seen Pakistan (@Unseen_Pakistan) January 24, 2023
A system failure
On January 3, 2023, the government mandated early closing for malls and markets at 8:30 pm to reduce electricity consumption, a plan which was expected to save the country about PKR 62 billion (equivalent to USD 380 million). In the early hours of Monday, January 23, the electricity was turned off during low usage hours overnight for conservation purposes, but the technicians were unable to boot the system up at daybreak. The Ministry of Energy reported that the National Grid’s system frequency dropped at 7:34 am, leading to a nationwide power failure.
Social activist Siraj Noorani tweeted:
More than 12 power plants are #ShutDown due to a technical issue and Work on restoration of #electricity still going on.#Karachi where the entire city was immersed in darkness throughout the night.#Pakistan #PowerBreakDown #poweroutage #PakistanEconomy #Blackout #Lahore pic.twitter.com/NIFcxcwPI3
— Siraj Noorani (@sirajnoorani) January 24, 2023
Train services were disrupted in some areas, as journalist Chaudhary Parvez noted:
Power breakdown in #Pakistan, Orange train service stopped, Trains halted at places in Beach track, Passengers were trapped inside the train.#poweroutage #PakistanEconomy #Pakistani #Blackout #Lahore pic.twitter.com/TX0CvYrmgU
— Chaudhary Parvez (@ChaudharyParvez) January 23, 2023
Minister of Energy Khurram Dastagir tweeted the progress of the restoration work:
Mon 7:34am, large voltage swing in south cascaded northwards to cause breakdown
We are restoring electricity from north to south
Electricity is restored partially in distribution companies Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, & Sukkur
KE is reporting very limited restoration
— Engr. Khurram Dastgir-Khan (@kdastgirkhan) January 23, 2023
The Minister announced in the late evening of January 23rd that electricity had been restored in most parts of the country. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif ordered an investigation to uncover the cause of the power outage.
On behalf of my government, I would like to express my sincere regrets for the inconvenience our citizens suffered due to power outage yesterday. On my orders an inquiry is underway to determine reasons of the power failure. Responsibility will be fixed.
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) January 24, 2023
The minister suggested that foreign involvement may have been a factor in the incident during his remarks about the investigation.
In addition to other services, internet connectivity was also unstable. NetBlocks.org, an internet-access advocacy group, reported via a tweet based on network data:
⚠️ Confirmed: Network data show a significant decline in internet access in #Pakistan attributed to a nation-scale power outage; metrics indicate connectivity at 60% of ordinary levels as many users struggle to get online; incident ongoing 📉 pic.twitter.com/qOQGxQRztH
— NetBlocks (@netblocks) January 23, 2023
Pakistan has suffered two significant blackouts in recent years — a nine-hour blackout in 2018 and an 18-hour blackout in major cities in 2021. Such crises not only affect daily life, but also the economy — the most recent incident resulted in an estimated loss of PKR 100 billion (equivalent to USD 380 million). The country is currently facing a major economic crisis, with citizens facing rising food prices and inflation and declining foreign currency reserves, hindering imports.
Due to yesterday’s blackout, the #textile sector in #Pakistan lost an account estimated loss of $70 million worth of #exports says APTMA sec gen. https://t.co/NIwoG85XAd
— Zofeen Ebrahim (@zofeen28) January 24, 2023
Amidst the darkness, netizens turned to sarcasm and jokes to get through the testing times, resulting in lots of memes on Twitter. Imran Usafzai from Islamabad accused the Pakistan Prime Minister of mishandling the situation:
Thankyou #ShehbazSharif for throwing nation back to #StoneAge era…Worst #PowerBreakDown ever almost 14 hours .. pic.twitter.com/8H3WCd1Wsb
— Stay @ Home Stay Safe (@ImranUsafzai) January 23, 2023
RJ Sabah Bano Malik quipped about her unfortunate experience during the outage:
thank goodness i converted all my gas appliances to electric in time for the power outage!
— Sabah Bano Malik (@sabahbanomalik) January 23, 2023