Nepal reels from fuel shortage due to Indian embargo

By Deepak Adhikari


As dusk falls on Kathmandu, a city reeling from an acute fuel shortage, Manoj Adhikari, a maker of sweets, stands in his modest shop near a busy street, watching two vats of cooking oil being heated over a wood fire.

The annual Hindu festival of Tihar, when sales of his product usually soar, is around the corner and — due to an unofficial blockade by Nepal’s powerful neighbor, India — Adhikari’s co-workers are scrambling for fuel.

“We’ve been using firewood for the past two months, but now it’s become scarce since everyone is using it [as an alternative fuel source] in the face of the shortages,” Adhikari, 30, said.

He said the price of firewood had recently increased threefold, while his employees had to spend days waiting for cooking gas.

As a result, he laments, he has had to stop making and selling samosa — a fried pastry filled with cooked vegetables — or, for that matter, providing his customers with sweet, milky tea.

“We haven’t been able to meet demand. Our business is suffering due to the shortages,” he said.

While he normally sells some half million Nepali rupees (roughly $4,725) worth of sweets during the five-day autumn festival, he expects business this holiday season to amount to no more than 100,000 rupees.


A two-month diplomatic standoff between Nepal and India — which followed the promulgation of a new constitution in the former and led to a blockade being imposed by the latter — has led to the suffering of Nepalese like Adhikari, who continue to groan under a resultant fuel shortage in this nation of 28 million people.

Ethnic groups in Nepal’s southern plains had protested certain provisions of the new constitution even before the charter’s promulgation. India, for its part, entered the fray in September, lending support to the protesters and imposing an informal blockade on its landlocked northern neighbor.

The blockade has severely impacted the flow of goods into Nepal, including essential supplies such as petrol, cooking gas and medicine. India officially denies responsibility for the blockade, saying it is Nepal’s unstable security situation that is impeding cross-border traffic.

On Monday, Nepal’s government, led by KP Sharma Oli, who was elected after the new charter came into force, urged India to ease the flow of badly-needed goods into Nepal.

At a UN meeting in Geneva last week, Kamal Thapa, Nepal’s foreign minister (and deputy prime minister), criticized New Delhi — without referring to India by name — for imposing the blockade.

“The continuous obstructions at border points… have severely impeded the exercise of rights and freedom that Nepal is entitled [to] under international law as a landlocked country,” Thapa said in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review.

 Crippling shortages

The shortages that have been caused by the blockade are evident across Kathmandu.

Lines of cars, buses and trucks — several miles long in some cases — can be seen outside gas stations, while many roads are largely devoid of traffic.

Numerous households, meanwhile, have resorted to cooking food on earthen wood-burning stoves, which are common in rural Nepal.

Environmentalists, for their part, warn that the rapidly growing demand for firewood could eventually threaten Nepal’s world-renowned forests.

On Tuesday, the Nepal Oil Corporation, the country’s sole supplier of petroleum products, said its depleting fuel stocks would only be used to supply emergency services, such as hospitals and security and communications infrastructure.

Many hospitals and pharmacies, meanwhile, have complained of dwindling medical supplies.

Ishwar Ojha, who runs a pharmacy near a major private hospital in Kathmandu, said Nepal imports roughly 80 percent of its medicine from India.

The pharmacist noted that patients suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure — two common ailments in Nepal — had been the hardest-hit by the embargo.

“We also import huge amounts insulin from India,” Ojha told Anadolu Agency. “But for the last two months, we haven’t received anything. Half my racks are empty; my customers have been forced to go without medicine.”

On Monday, Nepal’s Association of Pharmaceutical Producers warned that the country’s hospitals, too, faced severe medicine shortages, with current stocks expected to last only a few more days.

“No one should play with the lives of sick people by creating shortages of essential and sensitive goods such as medicine,” the organization said in a public appeal.

 ‘Political issue’

At the roadside sweetshop, meanwhile, Adhikari’s young co-worker arrives with a cylinder of cooking gas. Having finally secured the prized commodity, the wiry boy beams with pride.

The cylinder normally contains 14 kilograms of cooking gas, but this one is only half full — thanks to the rationing imposed by the Nepal Oil Corporation.

When asked what the new government should do to resolve the problem, Adhikari — who hails from the Dhanusha district, home to the protesting Madhesi ethnic group in the country’s southeastern plains — said: “This is a political issue. The government should hold talks with the protesters and fulfill their demands [regarding the new constitution].”

(Courtesy: Anadolu Agency)

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