The challenges to Nepal’s recovery continue to mount. Following the April 25 earthquake, the country has struggled to rebuild its infrastructure, efficiently distribute funds to aid in recovery, and lure back tourists with their crucial dollars. Now, there is another major crisis that is causing yet more difficulty for the impoverished nation. A major fuel shortage has brought transportation to a stand still, and has crippled the efforts of many to return to normal life.
For the past couple of weeks it has been incredibly difficult to cross the border between Nepal and India. The problem began when a group of protestors who took umbrage with the country’s new constitution started to block the passage of traffic, including supply trucks. That border is crucial for keeping Nepal running smoothly, as it is the only safe way to transport goods in and out of the country. India typically ensures that fuel is shipped in on a regular basis, but now those trucks are stuck at the border, while petrol stations in Kathmandu and other cities have run low, or completely out.
The Nepali government says that India is working in cahoots with the protestors, most of whom are from the Terai districts. Those individuals hold close political and cultural ties with India, and feel that they are underrepresented in Nepal’s parliament. For their part, the government of India say they have nothing to do with the border closures, and are playing no role in the protests.
With fuel now at dangerously low levels, Nepal is starting to run low on many goods, including food and medical supplies. No trucks can deliver fresh fruits and vegetables for instance, which means many restaurants have limited menus, or are now closed altogether. On top of that, there is no fuel to cook anything at all, so as a result there are large open fires in the streets of Kathmandu where people are burning anything they can in an effort to stay warm and cook what they can.
There has been some discussion of airlifting fuel into the country from Bangladesh, although that would add to costs considerably. Having some gas available is better than none of course, but the price will likely be so prohibitive that the average person might not see an improvement to conditions.
The situation was made all the worse last week when India’s embassy in Nepal requested fuel. This incensed many Nepalis, some of whom visited the embassy to “donate” fuel in protest as a sign of protest.
There is a bit of relief in site, although it’ll likely only be temporary. The Nepali Oil Corporation will release a ration of fuel tomorrow for private vehicles to aid in the upcoming Dashain festival. About 125 petrol stations are expected to get small amounts of fuel to distribute over the next few days, which will ease the problem temporarily, but longterm issues remain a concern.
The fall trekking season is just starting to ramp up in Nepal, and travelers there are going to face some significant challenges. Not only is a lot of the transportation currently not operating, those that are running are charing much higher prices. There are reports that the tourism sector has seen very few customers so far, and those that are coming will now have to deal with this unexpected challenge as well.
This story only helps to underscore the difficulties that Nepal faces. Protests, work stoppages, corrupt government officials, and a long history of mismanagement have left the country rudderless. As long as these types of behaviors continue, it is going to be a very long road to recovery from the earthquake, let alone actually making strides in becoming a modern nation.
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