Pakistan is rushing to restore power after its second major grid outage in months

ISLAMABAD, Jan. 23 (Reuters) – The Pakistani government said it was working to restore power to millions of people on Monday after a power grid failure caused the worst blackout in months and left the heavily indebted nation’s frail infrastructure brought the light.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told reporters an investigation had been launched into the outage, which began around 7am (0200 GMT) and has lasted more than 12 hours so far. “We have encountered some hurdles, but we will overcome these hurdles and restore strength,” he added.

The outage, which the minister said was the result of a power surge, is the second major grid outage in three months and adds to the blackouts experienced by Pakistan’s nearly 220 million people on an almost daily basis.

Analysts and officials blame these power problems on the aging power grid, which like much of the national infrastructure is in dire 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, the last bailout has stalled due to disagreements with the government over a program review that should have been completed in November.

“There is an underlying weakness in the system,” said an Energy Department official, who declined to be named because they were 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 power capacity to meet demand, but it lacks the resources to operate its oil and gas plants. The industry is so deeply indebted that it cannot afford to invest in infrastructure and power lines. China has invested in its energy sector as part of a $60 billion infrastructure plan used for Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

“We added capacity, but we did it without improving the transmission infrastructure,” said Fahad Rauf, head of research at Karachi brokerage firm Ismail Iqbal Industries.

The outage occurred in parts of Pakistan on a winter day, where temperatures are expected to drop to about 4 degrees Celsius in the capital Islamabad and 8 degrees Celsius in the financial center Karachi.

Many people also do not have running water because there was no power to the pumps. “People are suffering greatly from this power outage,” said Sagar Pahuja, a water and sanitation official at Jacobabad Municipality, a southern city with daily scheduled power cuts.

Earlier, Dastgir told Reuters that supplies were partially restored from the north to the south and the network should be fully operational by 10 p.m. (5 p.m. GMT). It also took hours to restore power after the last major outage.

The outage affected internet and mobile telephony. Several companies and hospitals said they had switched to backup generators, but disruptions continued across the board.

“If this blackout continues for 10 or 12 hours, it will cause huge losses,” said Nassim Shah, a commuter in the northeastern city of Lahore, where the outage halted the metro network. “We hope that the government will return to power soon.”

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; writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Miral Fahmy; edited by Sudipto Ganguly & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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