Winter is at its peak in the country.  In the capital, many feel that this winter is colder than the last.  This probably is because we forgot how cold last winter was.  When the temperature drops, we discuss a familiar subject: fuel wood.

Surprisingly, there is not much good to say.  Over the last three years, fuel wood consumption has increased almost 10 times.  This is worrying.  An increase of 3,635 truckloads of firewood in three years is a huge quantity.  Unless the wood is supplied from trees felled from the road widening sites, the amount of wood we consume is alarming.

And this is happening at a time when most of us are under the impression that cheaper alternatives like electricity and kerosene are fast becoming accessible and replacing firewood.  What is even more worrying is that officials concerned are not sure what is causing the surging demand, and that they cut trees as and when demand arise.

If electricity has made headway into remote villages, substituting fuel wood for cooking and lighting, we are hearing that institutions like schools, the monk body and armed forces, the highest consumers of fuelwood, are switching to electric or fuel-efficient cooking methods.  We should actually see a drop in the rate of consumption.  This is not the case.

There are cleaner and more fuel-efficient alternatives – electric heaters and wood-efficient stoves or bukharis.  And we see a variety of sophisticated heating equipment, like kerosene heaters or heaters fueled by liquid petroleum gas.

Increasing demand for firewood means pressure on our forest cover.  Forestry officials have said that some of the forest management units around the capital have already run out of trees, which need time to regenerate.  There was also a rule that banned hardwood in the capital.  But all wood supplied is not soft.  Besides the official figures, more trees, we can safely assume, are felled, or branches lopped, for firewood in the villages and even in towns, where there are settlements like labour camps.

At the current rate of consumption, we will strip our forest of tree coverage.  Forests, we know, need a long time to regenerate.

Winter has always been cold in most parts of the country.  Alternatives, though, were not always there.  The briquette, that sells like hot cakes cannot keep up with demand.  Briquette is made from sawdust that otherwise would be blown by the wind or rot at sawmills.  It was a good idea for the Natural Resource Development corporation to start it.  Yet, there is not enough for everyone.  The private sector surprisingly has not jumped on this bandwagon.

Heating equipment is a necessity, but not at the cost of the forest.  Alternatives should be explored by all means.  To start with, we could take advantage of our abundant resource, electricity.  A lower tariff rate during peak winters or reduced taxes for heaters could encourage people to switch to electricity run heating equipment.