Fuel Crisis Hits Earthquake-Stricken Nepal
January 28, 2016
Fuel shortages have forced many to cook over fire – for those who can find and afford scarce, highly priced firewood.
The timing couldn't be worse. With thousands of victims of last year's earthquakes still living under tarps in Nepal's freezing winter temperatures, a blockade on the border with India has cut off supplies of fuel, electricity, food and medicines.
People who lost clothes and blankets to the major earthquakes in April and May of last year are seeing temperatures dip to 22 degrees F. this week in the capital, Kathmandu, and even further below freezing in the Himalayan heights, where many village houses collapsed. Thousands of people are still living under tarps or sheet iron roofs.
Prices for firewood and black market fuel to stay warm have risen beyond victims' means to pay, indigenous missionaries reported, and illnesses are taking their toll.
"People are dying from lack of medicine," said one ministry leader based in Nepal. "Kindly pray for Nepalese people affected by the earthquakes who are dying because of the cold and not having enough clothes."
As the blockade has impaired transport of aid to earthquake victims in Nepal, Christian ministries based in the landlocked country are in prime position to provide locally available clothes, blankets, firewood and food, but they lack the funds to purchase them at black-market prices that have increased by as much as 10 times for many items.
"We want to support quake victims with warm clothes for their immediate needs and rebuild churches that are totally damaged, but we don't have enough finances," a native ministry leader said.
Factories have been unable to produce goods due to lack of raw materials, and staples such as cooking oil and sugar are in short supply for both wholesalers and retailers, the ministry leader said. The fuel shortage is affecting all aspects of daily life: kitchen, school, office, hospital and industry, she said.
"There's no cooking gas, so firewood has been used to cook food for some time, but then that became difficult to get too, since there is no transportation to bring wood even if it were available," she said, adding that rain soaked all her firewood one night. "I am boiling hot water with a rice cooker for tea and other needs. What can I say except to plead for God's mercy upon my country, and wisdom for political leaders to think and act properly."
The blockade grew out of protests by ethnic Madhesi groups in the Tarai region, along the India border, against Nepal's new constitution, which went into effect on Sept. 20, 2015. The lowland Madhesi, saying the constitution subjected them to domination by mountain peoples and left them with low representation in parliament and government agencies, began slowing transit along the India border weeks before approval of the constitution.
Nepalese officials accuse India of backing the protestors and encouraging an undeclared blockade, as they and others in Nepal suspect India's Hindu nationalist administration chafed at officials refusing to return Nepal to a Hindu monarchy. India has repeatedly denied the accusation.
Negotiations to resolve the Madhesi's complaints were making steady progress until last week, when talks dissolved on Jan. 18 and activists ramped up protests, blocking border trade routes. Nepal's parliament passed a constitutional amendment to try to resolve the crisis on Saturday (Jan. 23), which the Madhesis flatly rejected as "a farce." No end was in sight for the blockade, which has ushered in price hikes that have pushed an estimated 700,000 people below the poverty line. The Nepali Times reports the crisis has forced factory shut-downs that have cost more than 200,000 workers their jobs.
A ministry leader said electricity is often cut for 12 hours a day, food and transportation prices have tripled, and "people have gone back to the stone age, cooking on firewood." Another Christian leader noted that on one day electric power was cut off for 19 hours.
"We've had to spend more money since the blockade has made life so difficult," he said. "There's no gas for cooking, and cooking on firewood is also very expensive. Food prices are 10 times higher, and there's no fuel so people have to jump onto a crowded bus, even on the roof of it, or walk."
The winter has been especially cold, he said.
"There are thousands of people without shelter after the horrific earthquake," he said. "In this frozen winter, most of them are staying under the tarpaulin sheets and under old tin sheets, even after the huge contributions made by the Nepal government. We are still trying to construct some more simple houses for our believers in Resuwa District who are living under tarpaulins after the earthquake."
An economic blockade has paralyzed a country already hobbled by last year's earthquakes.
Lack of regular electricity has also limited the ability to pump water from water tanks, he said.
"Due to the lack of rain, the farmers couldn't cultivate the second season crops like wheat, barley and corn," he said. "The U.N. has already warned about an inevitable famine in the near future. It is now high time to show the love of our dear Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim the hope in Him."
Pastors who visited one ministry base were deeply grateful for even a few liters of fuel that an indigenous ministry leader provided after they visited.
An indigenous ministry assisted by Christian Aid Mission seeks funds to purchase 1,000 warm blankets for impoverished people suffering from the cold winter, and it would also like to buy clothes for children. Another ministry requests financial help to install solar panels at two children's homes, a Bible college and the director's residence. Each panel costs $1,600.
"If there is no light, how difficult would that be for children and students?" she said. "The situation has not changed, but we are praying and hoping. Thank you for praying."
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