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Petrol Price Soars to $20 Per US Gal

27 million people are eking out a living, cars grinding to a halt, motorbikes stranded, people cycling, others walking, some up to 10 miles to get to work, the remainder perhaps take the day off. Petrol is still available if you are prepared to queue for 3 days for 3 gallons or if you feel a little rich you can fork out $20/- for a gallon of petrol in Coca Cola bottles in the black market. Adulterated? Sure. Mixed with water? Probably.

It is not a scene from the latest movie "Armageddon" or "The last days on earth". Nor is this the reality TV show "Endurance"

Its all over the airwaves, in internet portals - Fuel needed Urgent!, prepared to pay high price for petrol, any price for LPG, please offer CFR by sea or by air. Urgent quantity is 300 tons a day or one flight if you have an Antonov An 225, the largest plane in the world

Alternatively, delivery could be by truck from the Indian port of Kolkata. You are advised that there might be blockades along the route. To get a clearer picture of the route, watch the movie Mad Max!

Nepal is a landlocked country. Access to the sea is by a road and rail link of 780 km through India via the Port of Kolkata. Technically Nepal is also accessible to the Pacific Ocean through its Northern neighbor, China. That road which is 5,500 km long called China Highway 318 is rated the 2nd most dangerous road in the world.

Even though there was a political spat between Nepal and India earlier this year, like what adjoining countries usually do, nobody knows for sure why no fuel is getting through from India to Nepal. Nepal accused India of blockading the border crossings but India said that there has never been a blockade.

Nepal is a fledgling Federal Democratic Republic formed in 2008 from the dissolution of the monarchy. A history of political instability has made the people resilient and immune to hardship. Blessed with huge hydropower potential, out of which only 10% has been exploited and delivering power, the revolving door governments have been working feverishly overtime to award hydropower projects on the run. All sizes are available. 30 MW, 100 MW, 300 MW, 3,000 MW, 10,000 MW. These projects are called BYO. Bring your own equipment. Bring your own fuel. Most importantly, bring money - taxi fares have just doubled, again. Still, projects are being snapped up like everyday a Black Friday, mostly from China and India, others from Australia and Norway. Some projects are stranded, the rest find it difficult to complete on time. Its a casino, invest and throw the dice. Investors, EPC staff, consultants are all huddled in their respective hotels, some eating 3 minute noodles, others prefer BBQ. Cooking is by firewood - there is a shortage of LPG. Not one government, not two, but all forgot that petrol, diesel, LPG are still needed for transport, for heating, for cooking and for industries. It seems all petroleum has been outsourced to State owned India Oil Company as the sole supplier. Surely India Oil Company would never go bankrupt. Surely Nepal is guaranteed of uninterrupted supply. Never expect the expected. Nepal has no land bridge, but there is still an air bridge; just make sure that the aircraft has enough fuel to fly back. There is no refueling, there is no aviation fuel.

True to form, gallant China came to the rescue and donated 1,000 tons of fuel to Nepal and immediately elevated themselves to become the co-supplier of fuel ending India's decades old monopoly. A few finger movements on the abacus reveal that 1,000 tons last less than a day but delivery of the gift took 20 days by trucks over the Himalayas obstacle course.

In both countries where news blackouts occur as frequently as electrical blackouts, nobody knows how China intends to position itself as a petroleum co-supplier or how any substantial amount of petroleum could negotiate the highest mountain range in the world, assuming that it has already worked out the logistics through the deserts of Tibet, or by the permafrost damage prone pipeline from China's oilfields to Tibet.

Nobody knows what percentage of trucks would make it to the destination, how many would suffer broken axles, broken crankshafts; how many would need rescuing from treacherous ravines; how many would AWOL. Nobody knows the pricing mechanism except that the supply would be based on "International price". Nobody bothered to ask what international price meant. There is no need to ask. China has come to the rescue. China would build an underground railway under Mount Everest, China could build a pipeline. China's New Silk Road could pass close to Nepal. That should be enough to ponder over, to daydream, when taking those long walks along empty roads when cars run out of juice. This is a land of proud people, divided like chalk and cheese, sandwiched by two big powers, rich but yet poor. Would they ever forget again that they should be fuel independent with diversified sources? Your guess is as good as mine.

From a Nepali " What can we do, we have to think positive". Indeed.

Meanwhile fuel is flowing again from India, albeit intermittently. The amount is not enough to alleviate the people's suffering from a lack of mobility but large enough for China to lament how ridiculous she is to send 100 trucks through deserts, mountains and ice over 3 weeks when the same amount flowed from India in just one hour, every time the bockade is lifted temporarily.

The author is an Engineer, energy consultant and an advocate of clean energy and clean coal. He is apolitical with no affiliations to the Governments of China, India or Nepal.

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