Pakistan begins restoring power after major grid breakdown

Photo: PAP/EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER

Pakistan's government began restoring power to millions of people after a breakdown in the grid triggered the worst electricity outage in months highlighting the weakness in the infrastructure of the heavily indebted nation.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir claims that the outage was due to a voltage surge, which overloaded the ageing grid. It was the second major grid failure in three months and adds to the blackouts that Pakistan's nearly 220 million people suffer on an almost-daily basis.

An inquiry has been launched into the outage, which began at around 7:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) and has so far lasted more than 12 hours during the peak winter season. In the evening Minister Dastgir wrote on Twitter that authorities had started restoring power across the country.

In Pakistan's largest city and economic hub Karachi, local resident Naveed Khan said, “It was a difficult day, but we got through it. Hopefully, things will be better tomorrow.”

Analysts and officials blame the power problems on an old and obsolete electricity network, which like much of the national infrastructure, desperately needs an upgrade that the government cannot afford.

The International Monetary Fund has bailed out Pakistan five times in the last two decades. Its latest bailout tranche, however, has stalled due to differences with the government over a program review 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-powered plants. The sector is so heavily in debt that it cannot afford to invest in infrastructure and power lines.

China has invested in Pakistan’s power sector as part of a USD 60 billion infrastructure scheme that feeds into Beijing's "Belt and Road" initiative.

The outage has hit the Internet and mobile phone services. Several companies and hospitals said they had switched to backup generators, but disruptions continued across the board.

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