Pakistan Riots Worsen as Karachi Outage Continues

July 21 (Bloomberg) — Pakistanis took to the streets of Karachi for a third day to protest a record power outage in parts of the nation’s largest city lasting almost 72 hours, attacking the offices of the local electricity provider.

Hundreds of people blocked off parts of the city today, burning tires and stoning police vans. Protesters also gathered on major roads across the city yesterday evening, disrupting rush hour traffic.

“We are going through the worst of times,” said Hassan Soomro, an office clerk. “Our house was flooded and we are still without power or running water.”

Demonstrations against power outages broke out in cities across the country last month heaping pressure on the government as it seeks to crush an insurgency by militants in the northwest.

Protesters set fire to train wagons and smashed windows of government buildings in several cities across the biggest province of Punjab today, Express News television reported. Stores remained closed and traders joined in the protests in Lahore, Jhang, Faisalabad and other towns, the broadcaster said.

“We have managed to restore supply to 80 percent of the city,” Ayesha Eirabie, spokeswoman of the Karachi Electric Supply Co., said by telephone today. “People must help us to help them by not attacking our teams and offices.” At least 24 offices of the utility were attacked, she said.

Power is expected to be restored to Karachi by this evening, Dawn News television reported, citing officials of the utility.

Monsoon Rains

Services in Karachi were cut at 4 p.m. on July 18 as monsoon rains caused flooding in the commercial hub. At least 60 people were killed in the city because of electrocution and rising waters that washed away bridges, Daily Times newspaper reported today.

Factories located in one of the city’s two industrial areas are expected to lose at least 10 billion rupees ($121.8 million) in revenue because of the three-day power outage, said Mohammad Jabbar, chairman of SITE Association of Industry, which accounts for half the city’s factories. Karachi is home to the central bank and stock exchange.

“Electricity is not something we can just buy and give to the people,” Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters in Islamabad today. “It needs planning.”

The Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition, which came to power in March 2008, says the previous government of former President Pervez Musharraf failed to increase generation capacity during its nine-year rule.

Power Shortfall

State-owned Water and Power Development Authority, the nation’s biggest electricity generation company, has faced a shortfall for about two years, according to the government. Demand for power has exceeded supplies, triggered by an average 6.8 percent economic growth in the past five years.

Karachi, a city of 18 million people, has previously been hit by riots because of power breakdowns and last month faced a fuel squeeze as gas stations stopped working because of outages.

The city recorded 225 millimeters (8.8 inches) of rain on July 18, the most in 32 years, according to Mayor Mustafa Kamal.

Karachi Electric buys 45 percent of its electricity from the Water and Power Development Authority and independent producers, including Hub Power Co.

The city’s distributor loses as much as 40 percent of revenue because of outdated meter-reading equipment, power theft and defunct transformers. It produces 1,377 megawatts, or just 78 percent of installed capacity, because of worn-out machinery, according to the company.

Karachi Electric is installing a 220-megawatt gas and oil- fired power plant in the city that’s expected to reach full generation capacity by September. The company needs to add plants, replace decrepit cables and cut power theft to end daily outages, which hit as much as two-thirds of the city’s population.

To contact the reporter on this story: Farhan Sharif in Karachi at Fsharif2@bloomberg.net.

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