Like many readers, I was one of the unlucky masses who had to wait for hours at the petrol pump recently for meagre two litres of gas. I am not amused. I'm not angry because the madhesis blockaded the tarai for three weeks (and the Nepal Oil Corporation has continued it for another two). My frustration is directed more at the massive four-wheel drives-much in vogue with the UN and diplomatic circles-whizzing through Kathmandu's narrow streets when everybody else is stuck at the petrol pump.
Give the diplomats a pass because while they may ride SUVs, they may not own more than five per embassy. But the UN, that high-minded centre of development and humanitarian values, has hundreds of clunky mini-trucks carrying exactly one person to a meeting somewhere in town. What a waste.
You'd think an organisation which promotes concern for the environment, sustainable development, anti-poverty schemes, and human rights could see that Kathmandu's roads just can't take any more of their massive four-wheel driven egos. But no. Day in and day out, the UN's white elephants wriggle through town.
Perhaps this didn't matter in the old days when cars were few and fuel plenty and cheap. But today it does. We pay our petrol import bills in hard currency. You can make a plausible argument that the congestion on Kathmandu's streets can be reduced by half if all these UN SUVs were sent out of the Valley, where they belong.
To set a good example, why not have the Resident Coordinator and his staff ride around in Marutis? Mr Kahane does own a nifty thrifty Wagon R and indulges in the pleasure of driving it around on weekends. But is he brave enough to go to official appointments in one?
There are literally hundreds of gas guzzlers in the UN parking lot in Kathmandu. All of them contribute to air pollution, heavy petrol import bills, and road congestion. And there are many more of these behemoths in private or business hands, not to mention those used by government ministers, lawmakers, bureaucrats, and the comrades.
We can't control what private individuals choose to ride, but we can hope that the publicly owned ones are banished from Kathmandu streets. Most of the real work is done outside the Valley by OHCHR human rights officers, UNDP development workers, and the arms monitors. They can make far better use of these sturdy Prados, Patrols, and Landcruisers in the field. These cars were designed precisely for such terrain, not for ferrying be-suited officials to meetings in capital cities. The bosses in Kathmandu can drive around in smaller, more economical models. Better still, they can set an example by driving only electric vehicles.
Unfortunately, though, UN postings are as much about massaging egos as about helping poor countries 'develop' themselves. And in Kathmandu at least, the ego has won. Just ask any of those poor souls waiting for their two litres of petrol at the pump.