Pakistan always seems to be short of something. Not long ago, a dearth of flour and sugar sent prices for those staples sky high. Farm fields parched by the country's severe water-supply shortage were submerged and silted over in last summer's catastrophic floods, but with floodwaters receding, the water-supply crisis looms once more. Electricity is always in short supply, so much so that rolling blackouts, known here as "loadshedding," are a daily scourge during the summer that cripples the economy.
In winter, Pakistanis cope with a different, though equally irksome, brand of loadshedding. The country relies on natural gas to heat homes and offices. When natural-gas supplies dwindle, the government resorts to rationing gas to equitably distribute the hardship of no heat and no fuel for cooking. This winter, episodes of gas loadshedding have been more frequent and have lasted longer than in years past.
As a result, Pakistanis rich and poor have been collectively shivering -- and getting increasingly rankled. In the capital, Islamabad, the average low temperature in January is 36 degrees. It's not Siberia, but without heat, the air inside households can get pretty frosty. Pakistanis have been flocking to appliance stores to snatch up electric heaters, but those heaters can't match the heat produced by the gas heaters relied on by most Pakistani families.