Half of Nepali households still burn firewood to cook foodAmong the 6.66 million households in the country, 51 percent use firewood and 44.3 percent use LPG in their kitchens.
More than half of Nepali households still burn firewood to cook their food even though the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has doubled in the last 10 years, says the final report of the latest national census released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Friday.
Among the 6.66 million households in the country, 51 percent use firewood and 44.3 percent use LPG in their kitchens.
Burning biomass creates air pollution that causes a sweeping array of health harms, experts say.
Among other types of cooking fuels, 0.5 percent of the families use electricity, 2.9 percent use dung cakes, 1.2 percent use biogas and 0.1 percent use kerosene or other fuels.
Karnali province which has 366,037 households is the largest user of firewood in the country, with 82.2 percent of them relying on wood burning stoves for cooking. According to the census, only 13.9 percent of households in Karnali use LPG.
Bagmati province, which contains Kathmandu Valley and has 1.56 million households, leads in LPG consumption with 69.8 percent of the families using it for cooking. As per the report, 29 percent of the households in the country’s financial hub are still using firewood in their kitchens.
In 2011, as per the previous census, 5.42 million Nepali households, or 21.03 percent of the total, used LPG for cooking purposes.
Nepalis started using LPG in a big way from 1995-96 when it was formally introduced as an alternative to kerosene in urban and semi-urban areas. At that time, Nepal used to import 18,600 tonnes of LPG annually.
In 2001, only 7.7 percent of Nepali households were found to be using LPG as a primary fuel for cooking. Consumption started rising after 2007-08, soaring to 19.59 percent of the households.
Then load-shedding began, coinciding with government restrictions on collecting firewood. LPG demand then took off, reaching 115,813 tonnes in 2008-09, and kept climbing.
It rose by 21.89 percent to 141,171 tonnes in 2009-10.
Consumption reached 159,286 tonnes in 2010-11, and by 2020-21, it had swollen to 536,028 tonnes. Nepal currently spends Rs36.15 billion annually to import LPG.
“There are several reasons why LPG has not reached all households,” said Sushil Bhattarai, former deputy managing director of Nepal Oil Corporation. According to him, the first reason is affordability. The initial investment required to switch to LPG amounts to Rs6,000.
“A gas stove costs around Rs2,000 and a cylinder of gas costs Rs3,800 including the deposit for the cylinder,” he said. “A cylinder of gas lasts a month or two. So, for many families in the low-income bracket, LPG is expensive.”
There are still many districts that have no access to LPG because of the difficult terrain, Bhattarai said.
“A cylinder weighs 29 kg. Small cylinders are not available, which makes it difficult to transport them to the highlands as it has to be done by porters or pack animals,” he said. “This is one reason why traders are not expanding their LPG business in the remote Himalaya, except for the Everest region.”
In the high Everest region, one of the world’s most expensive destinations, a gas cylinder costs Rs10,000. The retail price of a cylinder in Kathmandu is Rs1,800. The government subsidises cooking gas by Rs359 per cylinder.
As increasing LPG consumption increases dependency, the government has no plans to supply cooking gas cylinders to remote areas like it supplies rice.
Irregular electricity supply has prevented Nepalis from switching from LPG to electricity to do their cooking, leaving the country completely dependent on imported fuel.
For the state-owned monopoly Nepal Oil Corporation, the cooking gas business is a big money maker. But for the country, it’s a loss.
“LPG consumption is growing at a rate of 15 percent annually,” Bhattarai said. “Nepal consumes 100,000 cylinders per day.”
The irony is that Nepal currently is an electricity-surplus country and could switch to electricity for cooking needs.
“LPG coverage in India is 99 percent as the government makes it available in all parts of the country due to the health impact on women from burning firewood,” Bhattarai said.
State-owned power utility Nepal Electricity Authority knows that electricity can be cheaper, and it also knows that people are suffering from the irregular power supply. But so far, the grievances of consumers have never been addressed.
Kul Man Ghising, managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority, told the Post in a recent interview that it was vital to ensure an uninterrupted supply of electricity to encourage people to switch to electric cooking.
“LPG cannot be replaced overnight. If people shift to electric cooking from LPG, it will increase load demand,” he said. “But since we don’t have proper infrastructure, it is immediately not possible to supply uninterrupted electricity supply as per demand.”
Ghising said they would require an additional 500-600 megawatts if all LPG cylinders in Kathmandu Valley were to be replaced.
The country has made progress in the use of electricity. According to the census, 92.2 percent of the households in Nepal have access to electricity. The figure was 67.3 percent during the last census in 2011.
The census report said that 73.15 percent of households have phone access and 72.94 percent of households have smartphones. Nepal imports mobile phone sets worth Rs38 billion annually.
Similarly, 49.37 percent of households own a television, 37.72 percent of households have access to the internet, and 35.29 percent of Nepali households own a bicycle.
The census shows that 27.3 percent of the population owns motorcycles or scooters, and 15 percent of the population uses computers or laptops. In Nepal, 4.2 percent use washing machines, 23.7 percent own refrigerators and 53 percent own fans.
As per the census, out of the total 23.95 million people over 10 years, 15.68 million or 65.5 percent are economically active.