ISLAMABAD, Jan. 23 (Reuters) – Pakistan’s national power grid suffered a major outage on Monday, the energy ministry said, leaving millions without electricity for the second time in three months and exacerbating this country’s infrastructural weakness. a heavy debt burden was emphasized.
Energy Minister Khurrum Dastagir told Reuters the outage was caused by a major voltage spike in the south of the grid, which affected the entire network.
Supplies were partially restored from north to south, he added, nearly six hours after factories, hospitals and schools reported outages. The network should be fully operational by 10 p.m. (5 p.m. GMT), Dastagir said, adding: “We are doing our utmost to achieve recovery before then.”
It also took hours to restore power after the last major outage, which occurred in October. A senior ministry official blames the aging grid for the outage and the frequent blackouts affecting Pakistan’s 220 million people.
“There is an underlying weakness in the system,” said the 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.”
Like much of the national infrastructure, Pakistan’s power grid desperately needs an upgrade that the government, which has been flung from one IMF bailout to another, says it cannot afford.
Pakistan has enough installed power capacity to meet demand, but lacks the resources to operate its oil and gas plants and the industry is so heavily indebted that it cannot afford to invest in infrastructure and power lines.
“We added capacity, but we did it without improving the transmission infrastructure,” Fahad Rauf, head of research at Ismail Iqbal Industries in Karachi, told Reuters.
China has invested heavily in Pakistan’s energy sector as part of a $60 billion infrastructure plan that contributes to Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.
The outage affected large parts of the country. In Peshawar, a city of more than 2.3 million people, some residents said they had no drinking water because their pumps ran on electricity. Telecom companies and several hospitals said they had switched to backup generators, but the outages continued.
“I am in a lot of trouble because of the power outage,” said Karachi resident Mohammad Khurram, who accompanied his ailing mother-in-law at a city hospital. “I keep having to get her in and out of the building because the x-ray machines and other testing units have been compromised.”
Reporting by Asif Shahazad, Ariba Shahid and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam, additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; written by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Miral Fahmy; edited by Sudipto Ganguly & Simon Cameron-Moore
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