ISLAMABAD, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Pakistan’s government began restoring power to millions of people on Monday after a grid outage triggered the worst blackout in months and exposed weak infrastructure of this heavily indebted country.
An investigation has been opened into the outage, which began around 0700 local time (0200 GMT) and has so far lasted more than 12 hours during the peak winter season.
As evening approached and homes were without power in the dark, Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir wrote on Twitter that authorities had started restoring power across the country.
Dastgir told reporters earlier, “We have encountered obstacles, but we will overcome these obstacles and restore power.”
The outage, which the minister said was caused by a power surge, is the second major grid outage in three months and comes on top of outages that nearly 220 million Pakistanis suffer almost daily.
Power was beginning to return to parts of the capital Islamabad and the southwestern province of Balochistan, Dastgir said.
Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub, Karachi, is expected to see power restored within the next three to four hours, a spokesman for K-Electric Ltd (KELE.PSX), the electricity supplier of the city, said. southern city.
Analysts and officials blame the power problems on an aging power grid, which, like much of the national infrastructure, is in desperate need of an upgrade the government says it cannot afford.
The International Monetary Fund has bailed out Pakistan five times over the past two decades. Its latest bailout tranche, however, is stalled due to disputes with the government over a review of the program that should have been completed in November.
Pakistan has enough installed power capacity to meet demand, but it lacks the resources to run its oil and gas power plants. The sector is so indebted that it cannot afford to invest in infrastructure and power lines. China has invested in its power sector as part of a $60 billion infrastructure program that is fueling Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative.
“We have increased capacity, but we have done so without improving the transmission infrastructure,” said Fahad Rauf, head of research at Karachi broker Ismail Iqbal Industries.
The outage occurred on a winter day when temperatures were expected to drop to around 4 degrees Celsius (39°F) in Islamabad and 8 degrees Celsius (46°F) in Karachi.
In addition, many people do not have running water due to the lack of electricity for the pumps.
Earlier, Dastgir told Reuters the network is expected to be fully operational by 10 p.m. (1700 GMT).
The outage affected internet and mobile phone services. Several businesses and hospitals said they had switched to backup generators, but disruptions continued across the board.
Reporting by Asif Shahazad, Ariba Shahid and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam, additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Charlotte Greenfield in Kabul; written by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Miral Fahmy and Shivam Patel; edited by Sudipto Ganguly, Simon Cameron-Moore and Bernadette Baum
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