ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s government said on Monday it was scrambling to restore electricity to millions of people after a grid collapse caused the worst power outages in months and highlighted poor infrastructure in the debt-ridden country.
Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told reporters that an investigation had been launched into the outage, which he said was caused by a power surge. “We have faced some obstacles, but we will overcome these obstacles and regain strength,” he added.
The outage is the second major grid failure in three months, and adds to the power outages that nearly 220 million people in Pakistan experience on an almost daily basis.
Analysts and officials blame these energy woes on the aging power grid, which like much of the national infrastructure is in desperate need of an upgrade that the government says it cannot afford.
The International Monetary Fund has bailed out Pakistan five times in the past two decades. However, its latest bailout tranche is stuck due to disagreements with the government over a program review that was supposed to be completed in November.
“There is a fundamental weakness in the system,” said an energy ministry official, who declined to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media. “Generators are too far from load centers and transmission lines are too long and inadequate.”
Pakistan has enough installed electric capacity to meet demand, but lacks the resources to operate its oil and gas-fired plants. The sector is so heavily indebted that it cannot invest in infrastructure and power lines. China has invested in its energy sector as part of a $60 billion infrastructure plan that feeds into Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative.
“We’ve added capacity, but we’ve done it without improving the transport infrastructure,” said Fahad Rauf, head of research at Ismail Iqbal Brokerage in Karachi.
Power has been out of schools, hospitals, homes and offices across Pakistan since around 7 am local time (0200 GMT) on a winter day as temperatures are expected to drop to around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital Islamabad and 8 Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) in the financial hub of Karachi.
Many people also do not have running water because there is no power to the pumps. “People are suffering greatly from these power outages,” said Sagar Bahoja, water and sanitation officer of the Jacobabad municipality, a southern city that is scheduled to have daily power cuts.
Earlier, Dastgir told Reuters that supplies had partially returned from north to south and that the network would be fully operational by 10 pm (1700 GMT). It also took hours to restore power after the last major outage.
The Communications Regulatory Authority said that the outage affected internet and mobile services. Several companies and hospitals said they had switched to back-up generators, but the disruptions continued.
“I am facing a lot of problems because of the power cuts,” said Mohammad Khurram, a resident of Karachi, who was accompanying his sick mother-in-law in a hospital in the city. “I have to continue to get her in and out of the building because the x-ray machines and other testing units have been affected.”
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad, Areeba Shahid, Gebran Nayyar Peshamam), Additional reporting by Gebran Ahmed in Peshawar, Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul; Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Miral Fahmy; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Simon Cameron-Moore
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