11/17/2015, 00.00
NEPAL
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As cooking gas supplies drop in Nepal, people form long queues to buy firewood

by Christopher Sharma
State firewood stocks go on sale. Tree cutting is set to go ahead to meet demand. Some Nepalis wait up to 14 hours to buy a kilo. “We are queueing up for survival,” said one. “We spent many days with water and beaten rice,” said another. For two months, India has been enforcing an unofficial embargo against the Himalayan nation.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The ongoing emergency caused by fuel shortages has pushed the Nepali government to start selling its firewood stock. Long queues have formed at each point of sale with thousands of hungry people eager to buy wood after days of eating raw food.

The situation is the result of India’s unofficial embargo, which has virtually ended all trade with its northern neighbour. Gas and fuel supplies have dropped by more than 90 per cent.

Kalpana, a woman in Kathmandu, stood in line near the Pashupatinath temple. “I came here because I heard an announcement that the government was selling firewood,” she told AsiaNews. “I joined the queue at 5 am but my turn came only after 14 hours."

"We have no gas or fuel to cook,” she added. “We spent many days with water and beaten rice. At home, the children are hungry and expect us to bring a bit of wood to cook and feed them. We do not know how long we will have to face this situation. We pray and hope for a quick solution of the problem."

Across the country, the situation remains critical, as ordinary activities have been disrupted.

"Forget about health care, education, employment or anything else. We are queueing up for survival, to eat a couple of times,” said Sitaram Maharjan, a man in line to buy firewood. “Here money is worthless: we have money but there is no petrol [to buy]."

The Nepal Timber Corporation (NTC) is the government agency responsible for the sale of firewood.

"We are doing this under government directive,” said Dipak Rija, an NTC official. “We are selling first the country’s stock of firewood. We brought this wood from various Nepali districts. When we run of stock, we will cut old and dead trees until we meet demand. We are currently selling wood at 15 rupees (US$ 0.14) a kilo."

Some environmentalists think massive deforestation could lead to irreparable damages to the climate. According Haribhakta Shrestha, "despite fuel shortages, we cannot allow unrestrained tree-cutting. We appeal to the government and the authorities to be careful about the impact of deforestation.”

The Nepali government, together with the United Nations, has called on India to recognise Nepal’s free transit rights. "India must be sensitive to long-established ties with Nepal,” said Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, “and must act to prevent further deterioration in relations.”

“The [Nepali] government is ready to import fuel from countries other than India,” he added, “and it will leave no stone unturned to improve the situation caused by the unofficial southern embargo."

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