Crisis goads Nepal into looking for solutions
The fuel crisis created by the unofficial blockade of Nepal by India has launched a discourse on the country’s energy security. As Nepal is completely dependent on India for petroleum products, a halt in fuel shipments has led to an acute shortage, forcing the government to ration gasoline, implement an odd-even system for vehicular movement and stop providing fuel to private automobiles altogether.
In this context, stakeholders have stressed the need to reduce the dependence on a single supplier and single source of energy. They said that efforts should be made to import fuel from multiple countries, maintain ample stocks and work on boosting selfreliance in energy by promoting hydropower and exploring for oil in the country.
They also emphasized the need to learn from history as Nepal has faced frequent blockades by the southern neighbor for one or the other reason.
In 1989, India, which surrounds Nepal on the east, west and south, had imposed an embargo against Nepal that lasted one and a half years. Being a landlocked country, Nepal’s options are limited with regard to its fuel needs and has a hard time when its sole supplier turns off the supply.
“There have been two blockades by India in the past 25 years. And both the times, tightening the supply of energy has been used as a way of intensifying the impact of the blockade,” said Khadga Bahadur Bisht, president of the Independent Power Producers Association Nepal (Ippan). “The oil shortage has crippled life across the country. This has imparted a lesson that we should increase our capacity and diversify our sources of energy supply.”
Ippan has also proposed that Nepal decrease its dependency on India for petroleum products to 60 percent, establish a trading relationship with mainland China in the proportion of 20 percent and bring 10 percent of the petroleum requirement from each of the two neighboring countries.
According to Bisht, energy is the main input of a modern economy, and energy security is a key component of national, economic and environmental security.
There is a need to diversify energy resources, diversify energy procurement, maintain an appropriate strategic petroleum reserve and try to substitute imported petroleum by hydroelectricity, he added.
As per Ippan’s data, 87 per- cent of the Nepali people are dependent on traditional energy resources like biogas and firewood, among others, 9 percent of the energy requirement is fulfilled by petroleum, coal accounts for around 3 percent and alternative energy resources account for 1 percent. One of the major strengths of the country — hydroelectricity — meets just 2 percent of its energy needs.
As of now, Nepal has petroleum storage points at 10 places, and they have a capacity to store 70,000 kiloliters of petrol, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel.
‘We should not forget’
Stakeholders say this amount can address the country’s demand for fuel for 17 days only. According to Ippan, Israel maintains fuel reserves enough for 270 days, South Korea 240 days, United States 137 days and Switzerland 137 days.
“We should do the needful. We should prepare the country in such a way that we can store petroleum for at least three months,” Bisht said. “Also, we should make sure that we do not forget this crisis even after it comes to an end and work hard.”
Expediting development of hydropower projects and solar power, replacing the use of LPG and reinitiating petroleum exploration are some of the things the country needs to do.
Former water resource secretary Surya Nath Upadhyay stressed the need to translate plans, policies and strategies into action. “We have a tendency of doing much on paper, not on the ground,” Upadhyay said.
“When China offered support to open roadways on the Tatopani border, Nepal said it would do it itself. However, the border region hasn’t been opened even five months after the earthquake. And finally, when there were no other alternatives, I hear the road has been cleared now, and that too in just five days. This is how we tend to do things. We have to change it,” Upadhyay said.
He urged the government to sort out policy- level hurdles, change the licensing regime in the hydropower sector and increase coordination among government agencies to ensure energy security in the days to come.
According to Energy Secretary Rajendra Kishore Kshatri, rectifying the institutional mechanism is a must for developing the capabilities required to increase the strength of the government in terms of energy security. Kshatri also stressed the need to emphasize each and every energy project in an equal manner
and address policy hurdles.
“We have to wait for the Ministry of Forest to give us permission to chop some trees to develop infrastructure for hydropower projects. This is just an example. There are many other similar hurdles.
Hence, the government should have a proper vision, and the political leadership should be able to give impetus to the bureaucracy to carry out the agenda,” Kshatri said.
Kshatri added that the government should focus on all the possible means of energy generation and increase coordination between inter-governmental agencies to get results.
“When we talk about energyrelated national pride projects, the Energy Ministry has almost no stake in them. The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) is not a department under the ministry but an authority in itself,” Kshatri said, exemplifying the issue that has made it difficult for the ministry to take concrete steps.
Energy Secretary Kshatri also opined that political interference should be reduced for the sake of the national interest.
Government Told to Develop
The Agriculture and Water Resources Committee (AWRC) of the Legislature-Parliament on Sunday directed the Ministry of Energy to develop a National Energy Security Strategy by incorporating stakeholders like the Water and Energy Commission, Nepal Electricity Authority, Nepal Oil Corporation and Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, among others.
“The unofficial blockade imposed by India has exposed our vulnerability. The absence of alternatives, abundant storage capacity and inefficient management has taught us a lesson.
Hence, the committee has concluded that preparing a National Energy Security Policy envisioning a long-term policy is a must, and we need to do it at the earliest possible,” said AWRC chairman Gagan Thapa.
Likewise, the committee has directed the government to focus on long-term energy security and treat it as a national priority subject.
During the meeting, AWRC parliamentarians had slammed the government for its lack of preparedness, and said that it should immediately find an alternative petroleum trading partner besides maintaining alternative plans to make sure that such a situation does not arise in the future.