Friday, April 22, 2011

Fuel Shortage in Kathmandu

Kathmandu is currently enduring a fuel shortage. I started noticing long lines at fuel pumps around the city last week and wondered the cause. I assumed there might have been some physical disruption to the supply, a broken pipeline, a union strike. It turns out there was a physical disruption of sorts, but not exactly what I expected. Nepal gets all its fuel from India, which cut off supply when Nepal failed to pay its bill. Whoops. The state-owned Nepal Oil Corporation is unable to pay its bills because, while oil prices have been rising worldwide, the government has not raised fuel prices in Nepal to allow the corporation to profit from sales. Government policies result in a subsidy for all fuel consumed in the Valley, but also small hiccups like the occasional fuel shortage.

Life goes on, with or without easy access to fuel. Gas generators -- life-blood in a city without grid electricity for 14 hours each day -- are harder to feed, but businesses carry on. Cars and motorcycles are harder to fill and taxis are asking exorbitant rates. Minibuses (read: public transport) are correspondingly more crowded. For those in real need, there is fuel available, but getting access is a chore. Earlier this week I captured this scene of the petrol pump on Pulchowk, near where we live.

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From one direction, the cars and taxis lined up, snaking their way toward the pump slowly but surely. But not too surely: many cars sat empty as their drivers abandoned them to socialize and pass time during the wait. One taxi driver told us that he waited for eight hours in line the other day.

From the other direction, motocycles and scooters queued.

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They converged on the pump after waiting their turn.

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A conspicuous Nepal Oil Corporation tanker made an appearance but didn't get very far in lightening the mood.

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If there is one thing that has lightened, it is traffic in the city. You see fewer vehicles on the road, and of those vehicles that you do see, some are simply sidelined as they wait for fuel. I wouldn't say that the streets are clear or calm, but it's an improvement. So, the fuel shortage, with its inconveniences and frustrations, has left at least one camp in Kathmandu happy. Just ask this traffic director why she's smiling under that mask.

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