Pakistan is scrambling to restore electricity after the second major power grid collapse in months

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 an investigation had begun into the outage, which began around 7 a.m. (0200 GMT) and has now lasted more than 12 hours. “We have faced some obstacles, but we will overcome these obstacles and regain strength,” he added.

The outage, which the minister said was due to a power surge, 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.

The outage occurred across large swathes of Pakistan on a winter’s day when temperatures are expected to drop to around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital, Islamabad, and 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) in financial hub 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.

Internet and mobile services were disrupted. Many businesses and hospitals said they had switched to backup generators, but disruptions continued across the board.

“If the power outage continues for 10 or 12 hours, it will cause huge losses,” said Nasim Shah, a commuter worker in the northeastern city of Lahore, where the outage has brought the metro network to a standstill. “We hope the government will regain power soon,” he added.

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(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

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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