ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s government began restoring power to millions of people on Monday after a grid collapse caused the worst power outages in months and highlighted the weaknesses of the debt-ridden nation’s infrastructure.
An investigation into the outage, which began around 7:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) and has so far lasted more than 12 hours during the height of the winter season.
As evening fell and homes were without electricity in the dark, Energy Minister Khorram Dastgir wrote on Twitter that authorities had begun restoring electricity across the country.
Dastgir had told reporters earlier: “We have faced some obstacles but we will overcome these obstacles, and we will restore strength.”
The outage, which the minister said was caused by an electrical surge, is the second major grid failure in three months, and adds to the power outages that some 220 million people in Pakistan experience on an almost daily basis.
Dastgir said electricity had begun to return in parts of the capital, Islamabad, and the southwestern province of Balochistan.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub, is likely to see electricity restored within the next three to four hours, according to a spokesperson for K-Electric Ltd. (KELE.PSX)the southern city’s electricity supplier, he said.
Analysts and officials blame the 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.
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.
The outage occurred on a winter’s day when temperatures are expected to drop to around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) in Islamabad and 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) in Karachi.
Many people also do not have running water due to a lack of power to the pumps.
Earlier, Dastgir told Reuters the network would be fully operational by 10:00 pm (1700 GMT).
Internet and mobile services were disrupted. Many businesses and hospitals said they had switched to backup generators, but disruptions continued across the board.
(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, Miral Fahmy, and Shivam Patel; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly, Simon Cameron-Moore and Bernadette Boom
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