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Asia

Nepal running on empty

Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, is usually a bustling hot pot of bumper-to-bumper traffic, noise, pollution and the odd cow on the road. But nowadays it's eerily quiet, as Sophie Cousins discovered.

On the main roads you can count on your hand the number of cars and motorbikes that drive by; bicycles are now the main mode of transport. On a positive note, the smog has lifted from the city to showcase the wide-ranging, snow-capped Himalayas, which draws thousands of tourists to the land-locked country every year.

But, while it may be quiet on the streets of the capital, it's a different story at petrol stations across the city. Taxis have been lined up at petrol stations in southwest Kathmandu for the last week, unable to work due to the fuel crisis.

"I have been waiting in my car, queuing, for the last six days. The situation is very bad. What can I do? I need fuel to work," taxi driver Trilocan M.R told DW, while dusting his white, beaten-up taxi. "Maybe by Sunday or Monday I will be able to get fuel."

people lining up copyright: Sophie Cousins

Waiting for hours for a meager amount of fuel

A

blockade on Nepal's border

with India has halted imports, disrupting supplies for more than two weeks during clashes between police and protesters opposing the country's

new constitution

that have seen more than 40 people killed.

Reliant on India

Nepal is completely reliant on India for all its fuel, food and medicine imports. Thousands of trucks are stranded at the border, which has lead to a severe shortage of fuel, resulting in school and restaurant closures, astronomical taxi prices and public transport shortages. As the blockade on the border shows no sign of easing, Nepal is now considering airlifting fuel from either Bangladesh or Malaysia, according to local news reports, and may build a petroleum storage plant near its border with China.

Back at the petrol station, the army and police try to control crowds as they line up with jerricans and empty bottles of water.

People in the crowd push and shove one another in attempt to reach the only pump with fuel, yelling with frustration that they've been standing for more than 12 hours.

As a result of the critical fuel shortage, taxi drivers are now charging four times the fare to make up for the days they haven't been able to work.

At Purano Bus Park in central Kathmandu the scene is chaotic as hundreds of Nepalis cram onto the rooftop of the limited buses that are still running; babies are passed around over people's heads, and the elderly are shoved and pushed until they get a seat inside. Those who don't manage to squeeze onto the bus, hang off the side of its doors, or stay and wait, hoping for another bus to arrive.

people standing next to a bus copyright: Sophie Cousins

There have been chaotic scenes in Kathmandu

Tourists staying away

The fuel shortage is not only affecting transport around the country. Restaurants and hotels have been hit hard by another issue making headlines around the world, only a few months since the

devastating earthquake

that killed more than 9,000 people.

While tourists are slowly returning to the country for the trekking season, hoteliers fear that the latest crisis will further deter people from visiting.

Numerous restaurants have been forced to shut down or offer very limited menus. The only seemingly bustling restaurants in the tourist district were those that can serve wood-fire pizza.

Keshab, owner of Karma Travellers Home, a small hotel in the tourist district of Thamel, said the fuel shortage was of huge concern. "The situation is terrible," he told DW. "I have a few customers but nowhere near as many as I usually would for this time of the year. Customers who are coming to Kathmandu are emailing me asking if there's food to eat because of the fuel shortages. I tell them yes, you have breakfast for as long as I have gas, but after then, no," adding that he'd sent his children back to his village where there is firewood.

After the earthquake, Keshab saw a huge spike in the number of cancellations and is worried that the strikes and fuel crisis could further affect his business.

"Nepal, I think, is a beautiful country. When people come here they say they feels like home, that they like it much better than India. I hope this crisis will be resolved soon."

The crisis is also affecting Nepal's world-famous forests, thousands of which are under control of locals to for sustainability purposes. Krishna Bahadur Khadka from the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal, an umbrella organization of community forests across the county, said he was highly concerned about the spike in demand for firewood.

"The fuel situation is a big crisis for the community forests where now more people are getting firewood for cooking," he told DW.

"We are worried that people are now cutting down trees which means carbon emissions are being increased and contributing to deforestation."

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