Energy crisis leaves Nepal in the dark

KATHMANDU, April 10, 2011 (AFP) – By the light of a single candle Shankar Prasad Bhandari strains his eyes as he tries to count out the correct change for a customer in his blacked out shop on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Rolling 14-hour power cuts, triggered by a growing energy crisis, mean that much of life in the Nepalese capital and across the Himalayan nation functions by candlelight these days.

The impact can been seen — or squinted at — everywhere. Television stations broadcast evening news programmes from studios in semi-darkness, while schoolchildren face a daily race with the sunset to complete their homework.

The economic cost has been enormous, with industries forced to reduce operations and small businessmen such as Bhandari closing their shops before what used to be the profitable evening shopping rush.

“I’m losing business and that’s making it hard to support my family,” the 42-year-old told AFP.

Nepal generates a measly 643 megawatts of electricity a year — most of it from antiquated hydroelectric plants.

That is barely half of the national requirement and imports from India fail miserably to make up the shortfall.

Compounding the sense of public frustration is t