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Socks Are Optional As Pakistan Grapples With Power Cuts

Pakistanis have coped with — even rioted — over the country's frequent power cuts. Now, the government is feeling the impact, too. The country's caretaker prime minister has banned air conditioners in government offices and instituted a dress code for civil servants. Among his recommendations: no socks.

"There shall be no more use of air conditioners in public offices till such time that substantial improvement in the energy situation takes place," according to a Cabinet directive, cited by Reuters.

The News newspaper reports:

"The dress code includes white or light coloured (beige, light grey, sky blue, off-white, cream) shirt/bush shirt (full-sleeved or half sleeved) with light coloured (as prescribed for shirt) trouser or shalwar kameez with waist coat, moccasins (shoes without laces) or sandals (shoes with straps) without socks."

The code, put in place by caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, is meant to make it easier for government workers to cope with the lack of air conditioning at work. The temperature in some parts of the country is already above 100 degrees.

Agence France-Presse reported on the power cuts ahead of the recent elections:

"The cause of the crisis is two-fold.

"Firstly, the country does not produce enough electricity to meet demand. There is a shortfall of at least 2,400 megawatts a day in winter, more in summer when demand for air conditioners and fans peaks.

"Secondly, the government does not pay power generation companies for the electricity it does consume. The companies in turn cannot pay their overheads or afford to import power, and the supply stalls."

Some of the power cuts are deliberate. As Lauren Frayer reported for NPR last year: "Pakistan's government sheds customers from the overloaded power grid — causing rolling blackouts. Most people have only a few hours of electricity a day, and even that's dwindling."

NPR's Jackie Northam reported last year on their impact on the country's economy. And this is what she told Talk of the Nation last month:

"If you look at the economy, it's completely in the doldrums. It's just plummeted, you know. Nothing is working. Energy crisis: You know, there's very few parts of the country that have energy all day, electricity all day. Many parts of the country don't. People have to sit in gas lines.

"And when I — you know, when I drive around town in that, you see them. They'll sit for three hours just waiting to get petrol, fuel for their car. Oddly enough, they kind of accept that, and it's — which is rather astonishing if they're having to do it repeatedly and that, but there is an anger building when you talk to people. There is an anger building."

Indeed, protests over the power cuts have turned violent in the past. The blackouts were one of the reasons for the unpopularity of President Asif Ali Zardari's Pakistan People's Party, which lost the May 11 elections to its main rival.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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