Spiralling Fuel Costs Hit Home

The rising price of fuel has left many Kabul residents angry with the government.

Spiralling Fuel Costs Hit Home

The rising price of fuel has left many Kabul residents angry with the government.

Abdul Jabar, 35, tries to provide for his family by selling vegetables from a street cart. But what his family has come to rely on most is the wooden boxes in which the produce is packed.

No longer able to afford fuel to heat their home, they have taken to burning the boxes as their only source of heat.

“My three children all have bronchitis,” said Jabar, rubbing his hands to keep warm in the cold morning air. “They can’t sleep because of the cold. And it is not even winter yet.

“Is this democracy? Is this the free market? When there is no law, when people can sell things for ten times higher than they cost, when poor people die, and the rich enjoy life?”

The cost of most fuels used for heating and cooking have soared over the past year. A litre of diesel fuel, which used to cost about 40 US cents now sells at twice that price. A kilo of liquified gas has risen from 50 cents to more than one dollar, while firewood which last year cost about 50 dollars for just over half a tonne now costs 80 dollars.

Because electricity is available to most private homes for only a few hours every two or three days, fuel is essential to daily life in the capital.

Afghanistan has few domestic sources of energy and relies on neighbouring countries to meet most of its energy needs. Wood is the major source of fuel for many people, but deforestation over the past 30 years means that the supply has steadily decreased.

“We are almost out of wood in eastern and southern Afghanistan,” said Jamal Naser, a timber trader in Kabul. “These are our main sources of wood. So now timber is being brought in illegally from Pakistan.”

Because importing wood from Pakistan is illegal, traders say they often pay bribes to police and customs officials to bring the contraband into the country which, along with transportation costs, further drives up the price.

“Officials along the way charge us money, and we have to rent trucks,” said Naser.

People used to use diesel to heat their homes during the winter, but now it has become so expensive that even taxi drivers are having a hard time making ends meet.

The price of diesel fuel has also risen sharply, not only making it more difficult for many to heat their homes but also threatening the livelihood of those who rely on the fuel to earn a living.

“I am tired of driving a cab,” complained Sayed Sharif. “Prices are now double what they were last year, and people are always fighting with us for overcharging.”

The fuel shortage had soured this taxi driver’s view of the current government, “I am tired of this regime. It was wrong of us to chase out the Russians. The socialist regime was humane. The worst regime is capitalism, in which a few rich people live well and the rest of the nation dies.”

The rise in the price of liquefied gas, which many people used for cooking, means that some have turned to other sources of fuel .

Gulab Shah, 40, who sells matches and toilet paper on the street, said that until last month he could afford liquefied gas for cooking but has now been forced to resort to charcoal.

“There is no government to control prices,” he fumed. “This is a city where everyone is irresponsible, and everyone can do as they please. Our businessmen are like dragons. When the Taleban were here, they could control these oppressors. No one would disobey the Taleban.”

Hamidullah Farooqi, head of the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce, ascribes the rise in local fuel prices to increases on the international market, the lack of proper fuel storage facilities in Afghanistan, and wrong-headed policies by oil-exporting countries.

“The policy of the fuel exporters has had a bad effect on the world economy. Afghanistan is linked into the world economy, so it has affected us as well,” he said.

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
Pakistan, Afghanistan
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