Posted: 1:29 pm EDT
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On Sept. 16, Nepal passed a long-awaited constitution containing several controversial clauses. Chief among these was a refusal to allow for Madhesi- and Tharu-majority provinces near the Indian border. While supporters insisted such a move was necessary to counteract Indian dominance, ethnic Tharus and Madhesis termed it a form of prejudice. Protests began in August and have been, at times, violent, reportedly claiming more than 40 lives. Citing security concerns, India launched an unofficial border blockade shortly after the constitution was enacted. While many here believe the blockade is an expression of India’s disapproval of the constitution, New Delhi has steadfastly denied political interference. “The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” said a statement issued on the Indian Foreign Ministry website on Sept. 25.
Regardless of intention, the impact has been substantial. In early October, Nepal’s scant reserves neared exhaustion and the government was forced to introduce fuel rationing. Since then, the effects have spread to every sector. At local markets, food prices have gone up — 30%, 50%, 100%. Restaurants are raising prices and scaling back production and, even in the capital city of Kathmandu, homeowners have begun switching from propane to firewood. Buses are severely overloaded, private transport uncomfortably expensive. Getting petrol requires waiting for hours, or even days, on queue for the government ration or paying black market rates out of reach for most Nepalese. Ambulances don’t have enough petrol to operate, hospitals are running out of supplies, social services severely curtailed.
Below is what Gulfutar, a neighborhood about 3 kilometers north of the US Embassy in Kathmandu looks like. The lines for cooking fuel are said to be also huge. We understand that USAID programs are reportedly grinding to a halt for lack of fuel and so are other development agencies that are trying to help Nepal recover from the quake. With the winter season just a few weeks away, “this could get very, very ugly” is what we’re hearing.
USAID programs in Nepal reportedly seeks to reinforce recent gains in peace and security, stabilize the transitional government, strengthen the delivery of essential social services, expand proven health interventions, and address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change.
How do you do that when on the ground reality is like this?
Thousands of Nepalis line up for a small allotment of fuel in Kathmandu as the “unofficial blockade” continues. Photo by Derek Brown via FB (used with permission)
With extremely limited fuel, people are reportedly resorting to extreme measures to get around. A bus with approx 90 people (a vehicle with a 35 person capacity) went off a cliff last week.
The most recent embassy message to U.S. citizens on travel and fuel is dated over a month ago, and the fuel situation has not gotten better as the blockade continues:
We recommend that travelers evaluate any upcoming travel plans in Nepal. Due to the nationwide fuel shortage, due to blockages at the border with India, many of the safety measures that would normally be relied on in an emergency situation may become unavailable. These measures include air medevacs and local hospitals. As of today these services are still operational, but service providers are facing dwindling supplies. If you are planning multi-day travel the situation could change drastically during your trip. Please consider that if you are trekking in a remote area and become injured, there will be limited options for you to be rescued until the fuel situation returns to normal. Tourist facilities continue to operate in the Kathmandu valley, but levels of service may be lower than normal. It is estimated that the fuel situation will not return to normal until 2-3 weeks after the border supply lines are fully restored.
The UKFCO has issued a travel advice and notes that delays at border crossings have caused a severe fuel shortage which is affecting travel and provision of some emergency services. Some airlines have stopped or reduced the number of domestic flights they’re operating in Nepal until further notice.
Meanwhile, on November 5, the US Embassy in Nepal released the following statement about being “deeply concerned by the increasingly volatile situation along the Nepal-India border.” You could practically see folks rolling their eyes: