Gas shortage pushes prices of firewood, charcoal higher

Jan Khaskheli
Friday, Jan 14, 2022

HYDERABAD: With an increase in gas load shedding, the options consumers have are getting charcoal and fuelwood, or to buy cooked food from restaurants to fulfil their hunger needs.

The price of firewood has increased due to higher demand. A 40kg stack of fuelwood is being sold anywhere between Rs400 and Rs700, depending on the quality of wood and area. Similarly, retailers sell charcoal at Rs50-60/kg (Rs2,000-2,500/bag, measuring 40kg).

Due to increasing demand, the fuelwood sellers along national highways have piled up stocks of wood for the business.

Ghulam Abbas Halepoto, an owner of a wood cutting machine in the suburbs of Hyderabad said the demand for wood increases with the start of winter. “People come to my warehouse from different nearby housing societies and urban areas to get waste pieces and bagas (wood powder) for domestic use.”

Halepoto has been running a business selling raw fuelwood and manufacturing a variety of furniture for the last 20 years. He said earlier only owners of local hotels/eateries on the national highway used to visit his warehouse to buy wood for the cooking, as they believed that using a gas cylinder was costly.

But now individuals come to him and ask for waste wood pieces for domestic use to avoid uncertainty due to gas shortage and rising prices of filling liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders.

He has heaps of pieces of a variety of forest wood species to sell, which he gets through different sources and traders. Reports show that gas consumers in small towns and major cities like Hyderabad prefer to buy cooked food from nearby food stalls or restaurants, depending on their affordability whenever they see a difficult situation like this.

Kashif Memon from Tandojam said ever since the shortage of gas started, people who could bear the cost of cooked food, preferred purchasing from local hotels to feed their children. There was no fixed time of gas load shedding, so the people nowadays rely on food stalls, boosting hotel business.

He said only a few conscious families in the towns have a little space in the covered area of their houses for cooking with firewood, in case of gas shortage. Otherwise, a majority of households do not have space to use wood inside furnished houses.

They seem uncomfortable using charcoal as it could damage furnished houses, he said, adding that they preferred buying cooked meals. Affording families now buy one or two meals a day instead of waiting for gas.

Gas consumption has also increased as a large number of rural villages including those in riverine districts like Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Matiari and others have got Sui gas facilities at their homes. However, after witnessing the current phenomenon of gas shortage, these households have reverted back to the old system of using firewood to run domestic affairs smoothly.

Muhammad Yousuf, a labourer, residing in famous Mughul Village, near the river embankment, Hyderabad district said the residents were compelled to spend a higher amount from their earnings on buying firewood to cook food at homes.

The villagers seem lucky, as some traditional woodcutters in the forest areas still supply firewood on donkeys, getting Rs800-1,000 for 2.5-3 maund for each pack of firewood.

Yousuf is working on a daily wage basis with a cattle farm for milking buffaloes. He gets up early in the morning daily to reach the farm and returns home after sunset.

Comparing the past, he said, “Though the daily wages were higher, up to Rs800-1,000 for milking twice a day, we cannot save a single penny because of the higher inflation rate, previously increasing prices of food items and now the cost of firewood.”

Reports showed that hundreds of families that had shifted to newly built housing societies around Hyderabad, were waiting for gas connections. But the builders were unsure about the future in this regard, as the entire country was facing a shortage of gas. Some builders claimed to have submitted the required fees and had finished laying gas pipes but due to uncertainty, they were unable to give official connections to the residents.

Therefore, residents in new colonies preferred buying an 11-kg gas cylinder, spending Rs2,500 to Rs5,000 per month, depending on the usage, to live comfortably.

Noor Muhammad Sahito, a local activist of forest town Khyber in Matiari district, said mostly larger villages had gas connections. They were facing a similar situation in terms of disruption in gas supply. “Despite being called forest communities, they are buying firewood, and paying a huge cost for their families comfort in the current scenario,” he said.

Forests have disappeared in the entire riverine area. Unaware farmers sell live trees standing in their agriculture fields to traders, who either make charcoal or sell the chopped trees as firewood.

In this situation, even wood sellers themselves face difficulties in collecting the required amount of wood to run their old businesses. Unchecked cutting of trees all around and increasing demand for wood for various purposes has led to a shortage of the natural material.