Major power breakdown hits Pakistan’s commercial capital

 29 Jan 2016 - 15:44

Major power breakdown hits Pakistan’s commercial capital
Vehicle lights cause light streaks on the road during a power outage in a residential area of Karachi, Pakistan, November 4, 2015. Reuters/Akhtar Soomro/Files


By Syed Raza Hassan


KARACHI, Pakistan: A major power breakdown on Friday left 90 percent of Pakistan’s largest and richest city, Karachi, without electricity and brought much of normal life to a standstill.


The sweltering and violence-plagued metropolis of 23 million people accounts for half of Pakistan’s national revenues and is home to the stock exchange, the central bank and a giant port.

The third major outage of the country’s dilapidated electricity grid within a month forced shops, hospitals and businesses to turn to back-up generators as the lights went out, including those in the provincial assembly.

However, stock market trading was not interrupted.

The private utility company running the electricity supply said high levels of humidity tripped a transmission line to cause the blackout on Friday morning.

“The tripping should not be attributed to any lack in the infrastructure, rather it was caused by high levels of humidity,” K-Electric said in a statement on Twitter, adding that power had returned to most of the city by early afternoon.

An official at the ministry of water and power said at least 90 percent of the city was affected after a transmission line tripped because of dense fog.

K-Electric would be supplied with power through a separate transmission line, added the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rode to power in 2013 on a promise to fix the electricity crisis, but Pakistan still struggles to provide power to its 190 million people and industries.

The capital, Islamabad, was hit by a major blackout this month, as were Punjab, the country’s most populous province, and the northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Power cuts running eight hours each day on average have crippled an economy already wrestling with militant violence, a high budget deficit and falling exports.

Pakistan’s state power companies are notoriously inefficient. The government sells power below the cost of production but pays subsidies late or not at all. Plants cannot afford fuel.

Many influential families refuse to pay their bills while the poor often cannot afford to pay.

The unpaid bills run right through the generation chain, inflating debt, and chipping off around two percent of Pakistan’s GDP in the last five years.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Clarence Fernandez)