The following are some observations on the ongoing blockade from a friend of mine, who has lived in Kathmandu for some years. I experienced a little of what she is describing myself while in Nepal in December.
As we traveled from Bhainsepati to Kathmandu for the ASCoN conference one evening, it was all cloak and daggers driving up to an Army-patrolled government-run gas station. Our letter confirming we were to receive a tank of diesel for the hospital vehicle we were travelling in gave us access inside the gas station, but we had to dim our lights as we drove through the gates so as not to attract attention to a vehicle receiving fuel at a time where weekly rations were not being distributed. The tank was filled in pitch blackness and when we came outside the gate, a crowd had gathered outside rather worryingly. Our headlights only came on as we were further down the road before making our way back onto the highway.
Because SIRC is a designated medical facility, we get our share of cooking gas which is supplemented by the wood-burning kitchen set up out back where the bulk of the meals are prepared. SIRC is located right next to the Himal Gas Depot so staff sometimes bring empty tanks of cooking gas to work to get them half-filled on the days the depot is open. I believe they are not paying exorbitant rates and also believe the half-tank (if used efficiently), will last 3 months if you also have a wood burning fire and use electricity to cook the rice. A lot of coordination and planning is required to take advantage of the 6 hours of available electricity a day, or I should say night given the loadshedding schedule mostly provides electricity during the night-time hours.
For everyone else without easy access to government-approved fuel sources, the black market is their only option, sometimes paying nearly 6 or 7 times the usual price. This basically means the ordinary Nepali family has no ability to buy cooking gas at all. And has to rely on rationed fuel for their motorbikes.
It makes me sick to think there could be enough diesel, petrol and cooking gas for all right now in Nepal, when it is so cold and the need is so very great during winter time. Yet the government in their wisdom are just not distributing it to ensure their own political advantage.
My comments give some context to the following observations, reproduced with kind permission.
Eleven days ago I posted a comment on the silence of the press regarding fossil fuels and also much needed supplies coming across the border. A few days ago, in an article in the paper it was revealed that the Nepal Oil Corporation (gov’t owned) sent an internal memo stating that no one could discuss the amount of fuel trucks coming into Nepal, and especially not to the press.
One has to wonder why this is so, especially because there is a law stating that all statistics on fuel imports are to be available to the public. One reason could be that there would be a riot if people knew that 60% of the daily need is coming in daily while only about 10% of the daily need is being distributed on a weekly basis. So where is all of that fuel going? It is possible the gov’t is anxious to refill their depots (which has about 2-3 weeks supply) before distributing to the public. However, by now they should be almost refilled and diesel and petrol should now be sold freely at the pumps, which they aren’t, or at least rationed more often. It could be that there is a lot of “leakage”. One truck driver was arrested for selling fuel to the black market, and one has to wonder if this isn’t happening on a regular basis with kickbacks to the governmental run oil company. Petrol has now dropped to 100% more than the regulated cost on the black market, so there is still much profit to be made by all.
Another concern is the lack of cooking gas. We have no idea how much cooking gas has been coming into the country. The oldest distribution company has not reopened its local depots. However, other newer private companies are selling cylinders of gas but only “half full”. I heard from a friend who bought a half full cylinder that the fuel lasted only 6 days as compared to 3 months. A lot of profit is being made on gas cylinders as well. And in the meantime I am seeing more and more wood coming down from the forest above me. And it is no longer just tree limbs but whole trees now.
It is so frustrating knowing that the fuel has been coming in for over two weeks but the public still does not have free access to it. Another concern is that in 3 months the Madhes, who are taking a break from border closures (except for the main border and only during daylight hours) will rise up again if they do not get the federal border delineation they seek. And although India is selling fuel to Nepal and allowing all supply trucks to enter Nepal, in good faith for the Nepal government’s promise that the equal representation amendment will go through, it has been over 3 weeks and no amendment has been voted on yet. One has to wonder if the gov’t might not be hoarding all of this fuel knowing that this amendment will never be passed, and soon India will grow tired of its “magnanimity” of fuel supply and cut us off again.
I just know I would really really like to get restocked before the March delineation deadline, and it is looking like it is not going to be possible. I simply do not want to face cooking my food over a camping fire.