A right time to look for alternative fuel
Nepal is recognized internationally for its high conservation standards in community forestry program. Not long ago, the country’s vast stretch of forest was reduced to half by massive deforestation until community forestry came into the effect: the rate of forest shrinkage was 1.7% per annum in 1978, which decreased to 0.06% in 2000 according to Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation.
If the soaring fuel crisis resulting from India's blockade escalates, there is a risk of another massive deforestation as people seek alternative to petroleum products.
Nepal’s forests are already under mounting pressure after two massive earthquakes that struck the country in April this year increased demand for timber for reconstruction and construction-related industries as brick kilns. The shortage of petroleum products may intensify logging to meet energy needs of people in the cities. Although the share of petroleum product is less than 10% as cooking fuel, most people in urban areas heavily rely on LPG gas and kerosene. Village folks use kerosene and firewood with 59% of fuel wood in the country coming from forests. Although biogas has been gaining popularity recently, this option is not available to all. Indeed, of the total annual energy consumed, only 0.56 precent of residential uses is produced from renewable sources.
As Nepal reels under petroleum shortage, it unfortunately does not have many options to weigh. While cleaner energy such as electricity can be an option in long term, for short term, rationing of fuel and increasing fuel efficiency could help. Electric vehicles can be of great use. Cycling has already become poplar mode of travel, and its use has been intensified in the cities after the blockade. In the meantime, this shortage needs to be dealt immediately to prevent illegal logging.
Nepal’s complete dependence on petroleum products as fuel needs change. Biofuels can be explored. Government of Nepal started Biofuel Programme through Alternative Energy Promotion Centre in 2008, however progress remains slow. Nepal’s march to cleaner energy is not only expected but essential as an alternative to petroleum products is strongly felt among public and political circle. This sentiment should be used as an opportunity to tap Nepal's vast hydroelectricity potential (currently Nepal utilizes only 1% of its hydro-electric potential from its vast river system). However, it all depends on political commitment and how well Nepal can invest its scarce resources amidst conflicting priorities.
(Mishra is a Public Health student at The University of Western Australia)
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