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Nationwide grid failure plunges Pak into darkness

January 11, 2021 05:58 AM


Nationwide grid failure plunges Pak into darkness

Pakistan's port city of Karachi during a power blackout early on Sunday morning.AFP

Islamabad : A massive electricity blackout in Pakistan left millions of residents in the dark across cities and towns nationwide late on Saturday night, with officials working to restore power round the clock after a grid failure.

The electricity distribution system in the nation of more than 210 million people is a complex and delicate web, and a problem in one section of the grid can lead to cascading breakdowns countrywide.

The latest blackout was caused by “an engineering fault” in southern Pakistan at 11:41pm local time on Saturday, which tripped the system and caused power plants to shut down, power minister Omar Ayub Khan told a press conference in Islamabad.

The outage was triggered by a snag at the Guddu power plant, the country’s largest, causing the national grid to collapse, Khan added.

He said it will take “another few hours as the area is still covered in dense fog”, but that power had been partially restored in most areas of Punjab, the most populous province, as well as the economic hub of Karachi in the south.

Electricity supply was restored fully or partially in other cities too, including Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan and Faisalabad, the minister said.

“We hope to bring the system back to its full capacity by this [Sunday] evening, but it will take some time for nuclear and thermal power plants to get operational,” Khan tweeted.

He added that it was still unknown what triggered the shutdown that caused the drop in the system frequency from about 50 to zero.

“Our teams are working to pinpoint the cause of sudden drop in frequency,” he said, adding that three major supply lines originated from Guddu power plant and it was not known which one was the first to experience the drop in frequency.

Information minister Shibli Faraz said that the transmission system was old and blamed the previous governments for neglecting it.

People were cracking jokes and exchanging memes on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, mostly ridiculing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and its performance after the breakdown.

“Power breakdown in Pakistan is blackmailing Imran Khan,” tweeted Musarrat Ahmedzeb in reference to the premier’s recent statement accusing Shia protesters of blackmailing him after killing of 10 miners.

“What a start for the new year... let us seek Allah the Almighty’s mercy,” read another tweet, while a message on WhatsApp said: “new Pakistan sleeps in a night mode”.

There were no immediate reports of disruption at hospitals, which often rely on back-up generators.

Netblocks, which monitors internet outages, said web connectivity in the country “collapsed” as a result of the blackout.

Connectivity was at “62 percent of ordinary levels”, it said in a tweet.

This was Pakistan’s second major power breakdown in less than three years. In May 2018, power was partially disrupted for more than nine hours.

In 2015, an apparent rebel attack on a key power line plunged around 80% of Pakistan into darkness.

That blackout, one of the worst in Pakistan’s history, caused electricity to be cut in major cities nationwide, including Islamabad, and even affected one of the country’s international airports.

The incident points to a need to overhaul the country’s power transmission system to provide reliable electricity. “It’s not the first time this has happened; the country’s power infrastructure is fragile,” Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center said on Twitter. “In the past, separatist attacks have been blamed for such outages. That doesn’t appear to be the case this time

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