Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Art of darkness

A load off

It's really, really, really dark here a whole lot of the time. Not too cold, mind you...but dark.

"Load-shedding," the south Asian euphemism for scheduled power cuts, has taken hold now for more than 49 hours per week. A few months ago I heard it would be up to 65 hours a week before the winter's end.

I went to the Nepal Electric Authority website to try to download the "new schedule," which seems to change daily. At least, I thought, I can schedule stuff (showers, battery charging, computer work) around the blackouts.

Not only is the schedule posted on their English language website all in Nepali script, it's too small even for someone who can read Nepali (ie, me) to decipher. The rest of the web site (all in English) is devoted to explaining the plan for ending the load-shedding problem "within the next four years."

It's one thing to have scheduled power cuts. But they are not even following the schedule. For instance, today's posted cuts were from 11.30am-1.30 pm and then again in evening. At 2pm, the power was still on, only to cut off at 3pm instead.

Various people try to excuse or defend load-shedding in various ways:

--We depend on hydroelectricity and the rivers are frozen
(This was true in Ladakh, north India in the wintertime, too. But they made a schedule and stuck to it. Midnight to 6pm, every day. From 6pm, when it got really dark, we had power till midnight.)

When the rivers weren't frozen, back in September, it was

--The broken dam in Butwal (south Nepal/Bihar region) means there is less ability to produce power

But, before the dam disaster which displaced tens of thousands of people, other excuses were:

--One of the hydroelectric projects went down and it will take three years (THREE) to fix


--We have greater hydroelectric potential, with all our rivers, than any country in the world; however we haven't been able to finish the incomplete dam projects. The money disappeared somewhere

or even,
--we actually DO produce lots of power...but we need cash so we sell the resultant power to India.

Probably elements of all the above are true. The only excuse I do not accept, at all, is:

--This is a developing country.

It WAS a developing country. No longer. In the past three years, things have gone backward. It's more like a de-volving country.

Of course, for me and many city-dwellers, the inconvenience extends only so far as inability to charge my cell phone, or take a hot shower, use a credit card, or get a cafe latte. What about those trying to run factories, restaurants and offices? Zero productivity.

I really feel for those trying to sew garments or manufacture toothpaste. The tailors with their foot-pedalled machines and the chai-wallahs with propane stoves are really better off.

Most nights I read myself to sleep with a flashlight. What about the schoolkids struggling to do homework in the early dark (around 4.30 pm here now)?

Sales of diesel and kerosene fuel should be booming; let's just pray that the Terai (Nepal's flat, dusty corridor to the Indian "mainland") stays open, since that's where all the fuels are imported from. The largest places (star hotels, for example, or major supermarkets) have diesel generated backup.

Crime has gone up in the city, as not only is there an earlier dusk these days, but the streets are completely dark a great deal of the night. Sometimes it seems the power is off more than it's actually on. People, especially women, are forced home earlier.

Of all the things Nepalis have rioted and shut down the city or valley over - raised transport fares, petrol prices, unsolved murders and unavailable school textbooks -why doesn't anyone get up in arms about this?

It would almost be better to be up in a remote village where no one relies on electricity, and everyone goes to bed at 8pm anyway.

Glow-in-the-dark clothing
Flashlight with extra extra batteries
Candles and matches or lighter
Solar-powered charger
Battery-powered everything
One of those deep-sea fish that have lamps growing out of their foreheads

No comments: