This is a great write up from my friend Kelly who is living in Kathmandu. having just returned from Nepal a few days ago, I can fully support her take on the impact the blockade continues to have on daily life. And how apathetic people are becoming. I can’t say I blame them really.
I am moving into a house that has been empty for 15 years. 15 years of monsoons (mold and mildew), 15 years of chickens living in the kitchen and dining room. The arrangement I have is that I organize getting the house livable. It took 2 weeks for 3 women to clean the house. But now the house is almost ready to be painted. I called my favorite paint store in town, to see if they had the needed paint and colors (all come from India) and if they did, were they able to mix the paint without electricity. And if they were dependent on electricity, what time should I come into town, what was their load shedding schedule? Fortunately, the have the materials and they have diesel (black market) to run their very small generator during power cuts.
I drove my car this time into town because I had a lot of things to pick up for the house and could not carry all of it on my scooter. There are 11 garden lights whose globes are broken. These glass globes are no longer made so after getting the okay from the house owner to purchase the more expensive fiber globes (fiberglass?) I planned to purchase those as well. Traffic was so bad that it took me 10 minutes to find a legal parking space (hard to believe we have a fuel embargo). Some areas are marked as “no parking” but not other areas, one has to guess if it is legal or not. Along the road (New Road area) a truck was picking up illegally parked motorcycles (they were double parked). I asked the police if I was parked legally and received a vague yes, they were too distracted with loading up the motorcycles and watching out for irate owners. Not sure just how legal I was, I scuttled back to the shop (10 minutes walk) only to find out they had no fiber globes, in fact, after calling around to many more shops, Kathmandu is empty of these globes. The shopkeeper said it would take one month after the border to India opens before they could get a delivery. I sorely regretted not getting the phone number of this light shop before coming into town. The fuel waste; one trip by car is equal to 4 trips by scooter. However, I managed to pick up a few more items so it was not a complete waste of precious black market fuel.
We have started having weekly increases of scheduled power cuts. It went from 9 hours a day, to 10 hours, to 11 hours a day. Now, on our third week, we are jumping to about 14 hours a day. The bulk of electricity is between 11 pm to about 6 am. We all may have to become nocturnal. Two days, offices have 4 hours of electricity, the rest of the time they have about 1 hour. Normally this is not such a big problem as we have had load shedding (scheduled power cuts) for years and most offices are equipped with generators. This year is different because the fuel, which is imported from India, is scarce and expensive. The thriving black market sells petrol/diesel at 200% the cost, and cooking gas at 600%. And, we have not even reached our peak load shedding season, which is March/April. If power cut increases continue the way it has over the last three weeks, we will have no electricity by mid-March.
I’ve been asking older people who grew up in urban areas how they lived back in the 70’s when the power only came on for about two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening (and the wattage was very low, only enough to barely light a 40 watt light bulb- a continual brown out). In some ways life was better.
There was enough water with enough pressure to push the water onto the roof top water tanks. They did not need electric pumps to suck the water from the city water pipe nor electric pumps to pump the water to the roof. They had no need for underground water holding tanks and water came twice a day. Now water comes once a week (if one is lucky) and one needs pumps to suck the paltry amount into their underground water holding tanks.
There were no refrigerators. Everyone bought fresh food. This meant buying meat early morning, as soon as the animal had been butchered. Buying milk in the morning and boiling it over a wood fired mud stove. Most houses at the time had chimneys in the kitchen for the smoke from these wood fires. In some houses, primus kerosene stoves were used and kerosene was in abundance. Now kerosene is 3 times more expensive, but available in the black market for those who can afford it. Back then there were fewer people and many, many more trees. Now with the population explosion, the stress on the forests is formidable. For weeks I’ve seen people carrying loads of tree branches down from the forest above me. But now one hears more and more, trees being felled. If this continues much longer we will have mudslides in the coming monsoon.
Some people had lights but the lights were so dim, candles and kerosene lights were needed in order for students to study. There were no computers nor internet, most used the postal system. Telephone service was rare.
Food markets were in abundance and one had only to walk for a few minutes to shop. Those that lived further away rode bicycles to the market. Bicycle rickshaws were in abundance for those laden with heavy shopping bags.
Most people lived within bicycle commuting distance to work. There were motorized vehicles but most didn’t own one.
In other words, Kathmandu and other urban areas were villages.
How are people coping? Many who can afford it are setting up solar back up systems. But, these panels come from India or China. The road into China was severely affected by the earthquake, so there is not much trade coming through. And, of course, most transit points at the Indian border are closed. Most battery back up systems are imported and there may soon be a severe shortage of solar systems in the market. Those in the lower income bracket are returning to their village and rural lifestyle roots. But firewood is expensive now. I don’t know where candles are made but hopefully, they are made here and the materials are also from here.
I am doing well. My solar system is strong enough that I could be entirely independent from the city light system. I bought a water pump that does not drain my batteries as much as the older one in the house I am vacating. I have enough fuel for my scooter for about 3 more months. I recently purchased a lower watt electric kettle that won’t stress my solar system, for heating water before I put it on the gas stove for steaming vegetables, cooking rice, dog food and for the hot water bottle for the cold nights. No one is able to heat their homes this winter unless they are connected with an embassy or are a government official.
Internet is an issue. One company sent an email to its customers apologizing and explaining that there is simply not enough city light (electricity) to fully recharge its batteries so they are dying quickly and they are struggling with replacing them because they are imported from India. The server companies have banded together to complain to the gov’t that they should be put on the priority list for fuels for their generators. They serve hospitals, banks and other important businesses. They are complaining to deaf ears. My server is managing so far. But we all are having to plan our internet usage around our load shedding schedule.
So far my work place has not been affected because it is in a hospital, and hospitals have first priority for fossil fuels for their generators. First priority after the embassies and the international development organizations, Nepal security forces, government officials, and their friends, and relatives. But our hospital limits its electricity usage so as to not overload the generator. This means no heating.
I heat my room when there is electricity because my fingers stiffen in the cold. But with the new power cut schedule, I will have to get creative. We are all going through this so no one complains about the cold in the hospitals.
The irony of all of this is that when ever the price of fuel increases or bus fares increase by 2 or 3 cents, the youth hit the streets burning tires, calling for a traffic blockade; rue the person who dares to drive during this blockade, their vehicles are torched and bricks are thrown at the drivers, and the government immediately backs down.
But now when fuel is 200%-600% more, there is almost no electricity, and staple prices have skyrocketed, not a peep from the people or the youth. One once said to me, “there is no fathoming the Nepali logic, don’t even try”.