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In Nepal, fuel crisis hinders quake recovery

[SLIDESHOW=41456,41457]KATHMANDU, Nepal (BP) — A new, man-made disaster is complicating efforts to help Nepalis recover from the devastating earthquake that struck the country in April.

Ongoing protests over Nepal’s new constitution have shut down the main road between India and Nepal since Sept. 24. The road is the main supply line for fuel and food into Nepal. Nepal claims that India instituted a blockade along the border. News reports say dozens of fuel trucks are stranded at the border.

Nepal is heavily dependent on imports from India because it is landlocked by some of the world’s tallest mountains. The fuel stoppage has crippled Nepal and stalled all kinds of activities — including earthquake recovery efforts, said workers involved in the Baptist Global Response disaster relief effort in Nepal.

The initial BGR response in Nepal focused on survival needs like food, water, emergency shelter, health care and hygiene kits. Disaster relief teams from Southern Baptist churches in California and Texas have played a key role in house deconstruction and rebuilding in two districts of the country. BGR’s primary focus now is providing sheets of tin that families can use to shelter from the elements while rebuilding their homes.

Long lines of motorcycles, trucks, buses and cars extend down the streets of Kathmandu, said BGR partner Carl Russell*. Many drivers sit with their vehicles late into the night, hoping for an allotment of fuel. Personal vehicles are limited to four gallons at a time. A Nepali ministry partner recently paid the equivalent of $32 a gallon for fuel.

Taxi and public transportation costs have tripled or quadrupled. Rising fuel costs have driven up prices for all supplies.

The crisis threatens the recovery effort, Russell said.

“We have slowed down our work in the last few days considerably,” Russell said. “We have a plan to start rebuilding some homes, but the cost has grown considerably, so we are putting the process on hold for now.”

Several volunteer teams have canceled or postponed their trips, Russell noted.

Long-distance international flights have been affected because of the difficulty in refueling. Hundreds of restaurants — including one that provides livelihood to Nepali believers — have closed due to the unavailability of cooking fuel.

On Oct. 28, Nepal signed a fuel deal with China. The main road that connects those two nations, however, can only handle a certain number of large vehicles at a time and the area is prone to landslides, according to a BGR report.

The fuel crisis is taking an additional toll on workers already tired from the non-stop relief work.

“Weary does not begin to describe these days,” said Marcia Neely*, who is assisting with the effort. “I recently arranged to pay nearly $20 a gallon for a little bit of gas from someone who promises it is ‘good.’ I rode my bicycle to 7 different pharmacies to try to get a prescription filled — and then only found half of what I need.”

In Kathmandu, luggage has been replaced by passengers on the roofs of buses, which now lean heavily to one side, threatening to topple over. As winter approaches, the prospect of no fuel for household heat weighs heavily on many.

So far, relief workers have been able to find transportation into hard-hit areas for those who are still coming. But it’s come at a heavy cost financially.

Prayer for the effort in Nepal is greatly needed, said Jeff Palmer, BGR’s executive director.

“Please join us in prayer for a quick and peaceful resolution to this crisis,” Palmer said. “Pray for roads to open and for any blockades to be removed. Pray the Lord would pave the way for a smooth flow of fuel between both India and China. Pray that Nepali people would soon be able to have fuel for their vehicles, homes and businesses.”

*Name changed.

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  • Caroline Anderson