Fuel shortage takes toll on forestsDeforestation on rise both in Hills and the Tarai as families, businesses rely heavily on firewood
Deforestation has been rampant in Sunsari, Siraha and Tehrathum districts due to a widespread shortage of cooking gas as firewood users soar in villages and towns.
As the country has been reeling under a fuel crisis caused by the prolonged Tarai agitation and India’s unofficial blockade, people are going to forests to collect fuelwood. Karna Bahadur Raut, chair of Hasposa Com-munity Forest in Sunsari, is worried that more and more people are seen in forests collecting dry logs and branches. “Around 500 people enter the forest in search of firewood on a daily basis,” said Raut, adding that some are even chopping trees.
Raut said the forest had been protected by years of collective effort. As locals have destroyed the resource rampantly, the community is going to restrict the flow of woodcutters from January 15. Mawatidevi Chaudhary of Khanar, Sunsari, said she collected wood from fallen trees in Tarahara as she could not buy or refill cooking gas cylinders. Up to 50 people from her village go to the forest each day to gather fuelwood.
Aas Bahadur Dhimal, chairman of the Saraswoti Community Forest, said they open the forest twice a week to people from Itahari, Gaishar and Madheli. Chairman of the Sunsari chapter of Federation of Community Forestry Users Ramesh Basnet said pressure on the community forest is growing due to the fuel scarcity. There are 65 community forests in Sunsari. District Forest Officer Badri Kumar Niraula said the forests had been overused. Nearby residents are also reaching the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve to collect firewood. Some are earning by selling firewood to the needy households.
In Tehrathum, liquefied petroleum gas users have reverted to firewood. Trader Shankar Joshi said the LP gas supply was less than 5 percent of the demand in the district. Hotel and restaurant entrepreneurs in the district headquarters said they have been compelled to buy firewood by paying high prices. The increased reliance on fuelwood for cooking and heating has taken a heavy toll on the forests.
In Lahan, Siraha, the demand for firewood has increased due to the fuel crisis and the increasing cold. Locals as well as hotel and restaurant owners have started to buy firewood.
Satyanarayan Ram of Kadorwona-5 in Siraha said a bundle of firewood sells for around Rs750 these days, up from Rs200-250 in the past.
As people have started felling trees for firewood, forestland is being denuded.
Timber smuggling is also on rise as loggers are getting into forests on the pretext of collecting firewood. Many trees have been cut down without permission from the authorities.