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Etone The power to change

It is hard to remember a winter in urban Nepal that was bleaker than this one. Till this time last year, if there was no power people could at least fire up the diesel generator. Now there is no diesel, either. Nor petrol. Nor LPG.

Industries have ground to a halt, productivity is down, transportation is crippled, it's a miracle this country is still functioning. The only explanation is that long-suffering Nepalis are so used to hardships they take each day as it comes. Survival takes up all their energy, and there isn't any left to protest. Successive politicians of every hue have taken advantage of this.

The energy crisis mainly affects the urban middle class, which is now getting a demonstration of what life is like for a majority of the population. After all, 80 per cent of Nepalis still depend on burning biomass to meet its energy needs. Yet unless Nepal's politicians set in motion short- and long-term solutions to their energy emergency, the economic repercussions on politics of a prolonged energy crisis will ultimately unseat them. Unfortunately, in their political lexicon 'power' only means political control, it doesn't include electricity.

Let's face it, it's not original anymore to complain about fuel lines. It has become hackneyed to bemoan 16-hour daily power rationing in a country that has one of the highest hydropower generation capacities per capita. So, Nepalis on gas station queues are resorting to black humour: "I burned the petrol that was there to look for petrol that wasn't there." There will be a tipping point when the jokes will turn to anger, just like it has this week in Pakistan, Nigeria and Chile.

The electricity shortage is the result of colossal and chronic bungling by successive governments that squandered a god-given resource. And the kleptocracy fattened itself from the government's monopoly on the import of petroleum products. Even professional saboteurs paid to systematically wreck the economy could not have done a better job than what Nepal's rulers have achieved.


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