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Pakistan scrambles to restore power after second major grid outage in months

ISLAMABAD, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Pakistan’s government said on Monday it was working to restore power to millions of people after a grid outage triggered the worst blackout in months and put highlight the weak infrastructure of the heavily indebted nation.

Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir told reporters that an investigation had been opened into the blackout, which began around 7 a.m. (0200 GMT) and has lasted more than 12 hours so far. “We have encountered obstacles, but we will overcome these obstacles and restore the power,” he added.

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 the outages that nearly 220 million Pakistanis suffer almost daily.

Analysts and officials blame the power problems on the aging power grid, which, like much of the nation’s 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.

“There is an underlying weakness in the system,” said an energy ministry official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Generators are too far from load centers and transmission lines are too long and insufficient.”

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 across swaths of Pakistan on a winter day when temperatures were expected to drop to around 4 degrees Celsius (39°F) in the capital Islamabad and 8 degrees Celsius (46°F) in the financial hub of Karachi.

Many people also do not have running water because the pumps were not supplied with electricity. “People are suffering a lot from this power cut,” said Sagar Pahuja, water and sanitation officer at the municipality of Jacobabad, a southern city with daily power cuts.

Earlier, Dastgir told Reuters that supply had been partially restored from north to south and the network was expected to be fully operational by 10 p.m. (1700 GMT). It also took hours to restore power after the last major outage.

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.

“If this power outage continues for 10 or 12 hours, it will cause great losses,” said Nassim Shah, a commuter from the northeastern city of Lahore, where the outage interrupted the power grid. subway. “We hope the government will restore 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; written by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Miral Fahmy; edited by Sudipto Ganguly & Simon Cameron-Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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