Nepal puts firewood on sale as fuel crisis bites

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Hundreds of people queued in Kathmandu on Monday (Nov 16) to buy firewood after the Nepal government said it was putting thousands of kilos on sale to try to ease a crippling fuel shortage.

The move came as Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli called on neighbouring India to end what he called an "undeclared blockade" that has left the country desperately short of fuel and other supplies.

The government has been forced to ration fuel, forcing many vehicles off the road, and leaving many people without enough gas to cook food as the winter sets in.

"We will continue to supply until the fuel shortage ends so that at least the public will not have problems cooking their meals," said Mr Birendra Kumar Yadav, general manager of the state-run Timber Corporation.

About 44,000 kg of firewood was sold on Sunday, he told AFP.

Ms Balkumari Shrestha, who runs a grocery store in the capital, said she had been queueing since 5am.

"Our gas finished over a month ago and we've been cooking on firewood," said the 44-year-old. "This crisis has made life very difficult."

Landlocked Nepal has historically relied on neighbouring India for all its fuel, but trucks have been stranded at a key border checkpoint for over a month following protests over a new national constitution.

The movement of cargo across other Indian border checkpoints has also slowed to a crawl, prompting the prime minister to accuse New Delhi of deliberately holding up imports.

India denies the charge, but has urged dialogue with the protesting Madhesi ethnic minority, who have close cultural, linguistic and family ties to Indians living across the border.

The constitution was meant to cement peace and bolster Nepal's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency.

But it instead resulted in deadly violence in the southern plains belt, home to around half the country's population.

The protests and fuel shortage have piled further pressure on a country already reeling from an earthquake and large aftershock that killed nearly 9,000 people earlier this year.

"The economic, social and psychological damage caused by the ongoing protests and the undeclared blockade is several times more than the quake," said Mr Oli in a speech Sunday.