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Fuel Shortage in Nepal Hits Hospitals, Schools, Transport


Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, has almost run out of gasoline, because political protests in southern districts have blocked deliveries for six days. The fuel shortage is causing long lines at gasoline pumps and starting to affect critical public services, such as transport and hospitals. Liam Cochrane reports from Kathmandu.

At this gasoline station in central Kathmandu, the line of motorbikes, taxis and buses stretches around all four sides of a city block and continues on.

Nepal's capital is feeling the effects of political protests in the country's southern districts, which have effectively blocked imports of petroleum products from India.

Nepal relies solely on India for gasoline, diesel and kerosene, most of which is trucked in along a single highway.

Political leaders who say they represent ethnic groups in the southern districts, known as the Terai, have organized the protests to pressure Nepal's government to accept their demands for more autonomy.

But motorists in Katmandu are frustrated that politics is affecting basic supplies. Vivid Thakali waited in line for 12 hours to buy gasoline.

"The condition of the country is pathetic right now," Thakali said. "We can't do anything, there is no petrol, Terai is 'bandh', you know, it's because of the Terai. Terai is 'bandh', so we don't get petrol. We have to do it, need petrol to ride our bike and all the vehicles. So, no fuel."

Across Kathmandu valley, at least 15 private schools have closed because their school buses have no fuel and only about 10 percent of public buses are running.

With limited diesel to run generators, many hospitals are struggling to provide services. Public power is cut during eight hours of every day. Nepal has too few hydroelectric plants to supply its needs and hydropower producing dams suffer from a lack of water during the dry season.

Wes Lutz runs the support services at a 150-bed missionary hospital east of Kathmandu. He says the hospital has shut down outreach clinics and reduced ambulance services to try to conserve fuel for essential surgeries, emergency cases and its critical care ward.

"Basically, when you don't have power, people die," Lutz said. "When someone's on a ventilator and there's no power, the ventilator stops and so does the person."

So far, the Scheer Memorial Hospital has been able to secure enough diesel for its backup generators, which consume about 500 liters a day during power cuts. But, other private hospitals have not been able to get even this supply.

The government has asked police to provide security convoys for oil tankers and curfews have been announced in several districts to try to get supplies through the roadblocks to the capital.


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