You might think there’s a mistake in the title but I couldn’t bring myself to put ‘Good’ first in these depressing times. Yes, it’s bad times for anyone living in Nepal at the moment, except for those capitalizing on the desperate needs of others.
All of us are going through hard times brought about by the Madhes bandh and the undeclared blockade by India, not to mention the aftereffects of the earthquake. Almost everything is in short supply which affects peoples’ lives in varying degrees. The most disturbing is the shortage of medicines that can lead to loss of life. Belatedly there is talk of air-lifting medicines and it may happen before we go to press. What surprises me is why flying in fuel was more important than flying in medicines. Shouldn’t someone have thought about this long before we started running out of medicines and wasn’t it obvious that we’d face this problem soon?
What has hit everyone directly is the shortage of fuel whether it’s for motor vehicles, cooking or to run a business. Businesses have been hit the hardest because many have closed down resulting is loss of income which naturally led to the laying off of employees. There are no statistics available on this but it no doubt affects a large part of the population.
Factories and many schools around the country have closed down. Walking around Kathmandu every day I notice places that used to be teeming with customers now lying empty. One such establishment is the healing center at Gaushala that relies on oil massage for curing all kinds of ailments including paralysis. Named Kailash Parbat, this amazing Ayurvedic center used to have people queuing up from early morning. These days there are one or two people waiting and sometimes none at all. Obviously such patients need transport and with the shortage of fuel and exorbitant rates the taxis charge, people cannot afford to come every day. On days when more fuel is distributed to vehicles, there seems to be more patients in the waiting room.
Hostels for students and music institutes are suffering the same fate with a sharp drop in students. Even travel agencies are facing a cash crunch and difficulties when it comes to covering their overheads with barely any tourists in the country. Cancellations began with the April earthquake but the autumn season was showing some signs of recovery when unfortunately the Madhes bandh began. Suddenly the prospects of any sizable recovery seemed bleak. With fuel shortages hitting the transport sector there was no telling how many flights would be cancelled, how much fuel the tourist buses would get and whether the situation would get even worse. For the first time many people in the travel industry were going home for Dashain; something unheard of during the peak tourism season in the past.
The first establishments to close were restaurants that soon ran out of cooking gas. Those that remained open either paid huge prices to obtain gas or started using firewood and electricity for cooking. Resourcefulness played a big part in people staying afloat and there are many restaurants that never closed down. Sadly, the direct result of using firewood is increased pollution. Unchecked deforestation has been taking place all over the country because of the apathy shown by the forest department and in some cases maybe even collusion. There’s a lot of money to be made.
That was the ‘Bad’. The good part is the reduction of pollution due to the drastic drop in number of vehicles on the roads and the closure of factories, which naturally has health benefits for people living in polluted areas. There are also no traffic jams leading to smooth flow of traffic and less noise. This in turn leads to less stress which many city folks complain about in normal times. We have heard people talk of how angry they are half the time everyday, which in fact is abnormal. Sad to say however, that the good is outweighed by the Bad and Ugly.
The ‘Ugly’ side of life is where the most money can be made and very easily at that. All one needs to do is capitalize on the misfortune of fellow citizens. The moment there is a fuel shortage or shortage of any kind, smugglers move in and selling of goods in the black market begins almost immediately. “We are making more money smuggling in fuel to Nepal than by ferrying passengers,” says a driver on the Indian side. The easiest to smuggle is petrol or diesel as the drivers bring the fuel in their own fuel tanks. You can’t prosecute someone for having fuel in his fuel tank right? On the other hand people might see it as a blessing in disguise, “At least we have fuel even though we have to pay three or four times the price.” Adulterated fuel is playing havoc with vehicle engines causing great distress in an already hopeless situation.
Even in normal times, winter brings with it the dreaded cold and misty days that are too short for comfort. And along with it comes the extended load-shedding and water shortages. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.