What blockade you might ask? If you are not reading the odd article in the NY Times or following periodic reports from Al Jazeera and BBC, relying primarily on North American media sources, then you will be forgiven for knowing very little about the blockade underway on the border between Nepal and India.
While I don’t want to get into the politics behind the blockade, here’s an article from the Washington Post that will give some background on why Nepal has once again, ground to a halt. For the past week, all goods and fuel have been stalled at the border between Nepal and India – the primary gateway of goods and fuel to Nepal. As a landlocked and mountainous country, Nepal has few options on how it imports it’s goods.
For those of you wondering why goods cannot be trucked into Nepal along the highway from Tibet/China, it’s because much of that highway was wiped out during the recent earthquakes. And although there is hope the highway will be reopened within a week, any photos I have seen of the work remaining to be done does not give me hope that the highway will be cleared any time soon.
In any event, what interests me more is the impact the blockade has on the day-to-day lives of the Nepalese, who are still reeling after the devastating earthquakes some 5 months ago.
There are huge shortages of fuel for vehicles, potable water is scarce, gas for cooking, basic foodstuffs such as rice, lentils, oil, sugar, salt etc and medical supplies are beginning to dwindle. Without fuel, local buses, tuk tuks and taxis are no longer running. No goods can be delivered. No water can be delivered. Internet service is sporadic as during the 8-12 hours of electricity blackouts per day, the internet servers are kept up and running with generators … which of course, need fuel.
The lineups for the available fuel are just incredible. People are resorting to walking or biking – I hear bike shops are doing a roaring trade! But the sale of bikes will also stall, as most bikes are imported from India. There is even a facebook page called Carpool Kathmandu where people are listing their journey details and folks can grab a ride in what would otherwise be an empty car.
The only good thing about the fuel shortage is a significant increase in air quality throughout the Kathmandu Valley, with only 10% of the usual number of cars on the road.
I was keen to find out how SIRC was dealing with the effects of the blockade and spoke to Dipesh Pradhan, who is SIRC’s Administrative Director. Dipesh is responsible for the day to day operations of the facility and has had a lot on his plate over the past few months as you can imagine.
Mercifully, SIRC has it’s own water supply and grows many of the vegetables it uses to feed the patients, their caregivers and staff. Happily Dipesh is a good organizer and anticipated the potential for food shortages over a month ago when the trouble first started to brew at the border. He stockpiled oil for cooking, rice, lentils, salt, flour, sugar as well as some fuel (as much as he could) and of course the all important medical supplies needed for the seriously ill patients.
What he could not find to stockpile, was cooking gas. SIRC is located right next door to a gas distribution centre and even they have no gas to distribute after a week’s blockade. Five months after the earthquakes, there are still over 100 patients receiving medical care and rehabilitation at SIRC. Add in their family/caregivers plus staff, and the facility needs to provide two meals plus snack to 250+ people daily. With this many mouths to feed and no cooking gas, Dipesh and team had to get their thinking caps on. There was nothing for it but to build an outdoor cooking station in the area just behind the facility’s kitchen, and set up a wood-burning stove made from stacked bricks with metal supports for the giant cooking kadai.
Although there is a large wooded area further up the hill from the SIRC facility, felling trees from this lot is not allowed and as a result, Dipesh had to source over 1000kg of wood for cooking purposes from the general marketplace. This will last about 10 days so he is already speaking with representatives from the Department of Forestry and other Forestry Committees, to secure a regular supply of wood for the facility, should the blockade continue.
As for fuel to run the staff bus and ambulances that carry patients to and from other hospitals for specialized treatment, Dipesh has had to be pretty smart on how to allocate SIRC’s daily ration. Because SIRC is a hospital facility, it is allocated 30 litres of fuel a day. This daily allocation is shared between the vehicles as well as running the generator to keep things like air mattresses inflated (helps avoid pressure sores & subsequent infections). Unnecessary trips are restricted, no idling of vehicles etc. Dipesh tells me at this time, he is fortunately not yet experiencing problems ferrying the staff who primarily live in Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, to SIRC in the Saanga hills. Long may this last.
To end this posting, I’d like you to take a moment to be grateful. Grateful for all we have, while we sit in our warm homes, with food to eat and fuel in our vehicles to go wherever we wish. And to give some thought to the tenacity of the people of Nepal who yet again, leave me humbled.