GILGIT: Already suffering from power outages and fuel shortage, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan must now contend with the disappearance of firewood from markets during the harsh winter.
“We cannot afford to buy kerosene oil and gas for heating purposes as the prices are simply beyond our means,” said senior citizen Munir Akhtar on Sunday as he failed to find firewood to keep his family warm. He said at some places Rs600 was being charged for 40 kgs which he said was beyond his budget. LPG gas was available at Rs180 per kg in Gilgit on Sunday, compelling ordinary people to stay away from purchasing it. Along with the skyrocketing prices of petroleum products, Kerosene has remained in short supply for most of the winter. The availability of electricity is also limited and people have to brave more than 19 hours of load shedding a day.
Most of the depots and wood stalls in Gilgit ran out of wood in December and remained so till this Sunday as consumption increased with the cold. The government also didn’t allow transportation of wood from Chilas to Gilgit and other parts in an attempt to discourage illegal logging.
Over 40 per cent of the population of Gilgit depends on Diamer wood for heating during winters. However, it is thought that if supply continued at the same pace, the forests of Diamer will soon be depleted and the timber mafia will benefit from it by smuggling to other parts of the country.
“It’s the decision of the government to not allow transportation of wood to Gilgit and other parts,” said an official in the Forests Department. He said that a summary has been forwarded to the government to help decide how to tackle the issue.
Gilgit-based timber dealer Ahmed Qari said that they were not allowed to bring wood from Chilas only because the officials at forests check posts rejected their permit for some unknown reasons.
In Gilgit-Baltistan the bukhary, a traditional heating system, is the only viable option available for people to counter the cold. Firewood is burnt inside it to keep the houses warm. However the shortage of firewood has deprived people of this facility too, exposing them to the freezing cold. According to the Met Department, temperatures in Gilgit-Baltistan remained between -09 to 17 degrees Celsius for most of December.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2011.