A cause of great concern

The latest statistics on our import and export is scary. It is a big cause of concern.

The country’s biggest export, hydropower, is not able to meet the demand for fossil fuel. We exported Nu 10.5 billion worth of clean electricity from hydropower. But we imported Nu10.2 billion worth of fossil fuel, a bulk of which was diesel, Nu 7.9 billion.

As a landlocked country heavily dependent on land transport and without our own oil, we have to rely on import. With construction sector, one of the biggest drivers of the economy, transportation drives the import bill.  The trade imbalance, Nu 30 billion in deficit, however, should make us pause and relook at our policies.

We are known to be carbon neutral, a status many  are proud to share at international gatherings. We are known to be exporting clean energy to the extent that we even negotiated for emission reduction credits. From the trade in energy, our clean energy is negated by dirty energy imports.

Import of fuel has been the top import item. We cannot do away with it. But we can have wise and bold policies to curb that negative trade. For instance, we are caught in a vehicle buying frenzy. Records with the road safety authority show that more than 600 vehicles are imported every month. The number of vehicles in the country was 98,008 in September 2018. It crossed the 100,000  last month. We have 102,301 vehicles in the country today. A rich country, if we go by the numbers.

One big irony in our policy planning and implementation is in the transport sector. There has been a call for improved public transport system since early 2000. It featured in the long-term transport plans and several other legislations, government reports and independent studies.  We don’t have a few good examples to convince people or donors.

In the meantime, we are encouraging people to buy and buy more. We have cheap loans, subsidies and quotas to import vehicle and not one good good plan to develop public transport. Vehicular emission is becoming a concern. In 2000, when the vehicle number was about 19,000, the transport sector contributed 45 percent of all energy-related GHG emissions, about 7 percent of the overall GHG emissions. The number has increased fivefold.

Another concern is on the food trade imbalance. Our food self-sufficiency appears a distant dream going by the figures. Import of rice, our staple food, is increasing even as our fields are left to fallow. Import of essentials like vegetables and meat are on the rise every year. This is in the face of recognising the importance of home-grown produce.

There are drawbacks. We cannot commercialise agriculture and cultivation is dictated by climatic conditions. But we cannot afford to take solace in these excuses.

With statistics available now, we are not only aware of our growth pattern, but also the impact of our growth. There is growth, indeed, but if it is for the good, one has to wonder.

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