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Fleeting Fuel

September 18, 2010

In development the fight for fuel funding is well known.  Donors want to finance boreholes and health centers, not motorbikes and diesel.  Right now, the district is facing another challenge.  They actually have the funding for fuel for the activities that are planned, but fuel just doesn’t exist.

There’s just one filling station here in Mzimba, and it ran out of diesel a full week ago and was out of petrol two days later.  There hasn’t been a drop of legally available fuel in the city since then.  There hasn’t been a drop of black market fuel available for a number of days.   For a town of 50,000, that’s no laughing matter.  Two days ago,  Mzuzu, about an hour and half away and the closest large city (3rd largest in the country), also ran out of diesel.  If something doesn’t change soon, petrol will likely follow suit.  There are line ups and restrictions on purchase at filling stations across the country.  Black market prices, where they exist, are reported to be double the normal cost.  Bus fares are rising in some locations, people just aren’t travelling anywhere unless they absolutely have to.

There doesn’t seem to be an official response or explanation for the lack of fuel, besides assurances that it will come.  The most common belief that I have found for the shortage is that it is a result of a lack of FOREX in the country.  Without US dollars, you can’t purchase fuel in international markets.  Simple as that.  The lack of FOREX could be attributed to the fact that a large part of Malawi’s income generation comes from the tobacco harvest, which happens only once a year.  With the rainy season still over a full month away, that’s not going to happen again for a little while.  Apparently similar shortages have happened a year ago, and went on for several months.

I can’t help but draw some comparisons to Canada.   Can you imagine what the consequences would be if the same thing happened there?  Although my life hasn’t been tremendously impacted as of yet: line ups for buses are longer and more intense, field work is minimized or cancelled, the road is far less busy than normal.  I am planning on attending team meetings in Lilongwe this weekend.  I hope there will be a bus.  The same shortage in Canada, on the other hand would be devastating.  Society would stop functioning.

It’s the topic on the street that everyone discusses – like the weather in Canada.  But talking doesn’t change much. The fact that this shortage is happening is surprising, if not somewhat unbelievable, but the lack of attention it receives startles me even more.  I just went through one of the two national daily papers and the fuel shortage wasn’t even mentioned today.  It has been covered over the weekend and earlier this week, but now, not a word.  The way forward is unclear.  Life goes on.  We will see what happens.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Pat Dunstan permalink
    September 18, 2010 3:11 pm

    Hi Alyssa- It’s so nice to hear from you. However, I feel a little panicky just imagining no gas in my car!! We certainly often have no idea of the way others around the world have to manage. We still think and speak of you often and admire your work. May God bless you in all you do. Love from us- Pat and Clive

    • September 26, 2010 1:43 pm

      Good news! On my way back from posting this at the internet cafe on Saturday, fuel had returned to Mzimba! Look at the power of blogging (just joking) It definitely is a major challenge here that’s not something we even really think about in Canada. Thanks for the good thoughts and kind words, they mean lots!

  2. Gloria Crouse permalink
    September 18, 2010 5:06 pm

    Hi there from Michigan. I just keep wondering what has kept that part of the world from developing. Is is lack of local resources? Land locked, no trade, I do not even know if that is the ultimate goal- to be so called “westernized”. Obvious there is not oil beneath or some country would have capatilized on it. Or maybe that society is just plain happy the way they are with a few minor improvements?? Love from Aunt Gloria-

    • September 26, 2010 1:44 pm

      Good questions! From what I can tell, there’s no simple, single answer either for the reasons/causes of poverty or for the goal – if it does exist, I definitely don’t know what it is. (but I have a feeling it doesn’t, bc if it did, we’d probably be well on the road to addressing it by now).

      Just like in Canada or the States, different people envision different things for the development and future of their country. Some feel that investment in private enterprise is the way forward, others feel that a strong public sector is required to support those living in poverty. Some want a more westernized country, some want to maintain strong Malawian culture and approaches. Should there be a right answer? If so, who decides? and how?

      The challenges are also many and vary from area to area, never mind country to country. Lack of resources, trade practices that favour the developed world, unfair conditions on aid money that don’t allow for growth and development, one size fits all solutions that aren’t appropriate or applicable to the context in which they are applied, uncoordinated and sometimes contradictory efforts, to name just a few. So where do you start? Is it possible to address one and not the others?

      you’re questions have made me think about some ideas in a book called ‘White Man’s Burden’ by William Easterly that I read earlier this year… perhaps i’ll save that for one of my next blog topics.

  3. Karen Forgrave permalink
    September 20, 2010 3:00 am

    Hi Alyssa – it was nice to be back at church (after our summer holidays) and talk to your dad about how you are doing! We’ve all been thinking about you and your work! What an amazing story – I’m now on your blog list, so I’ll look forward to hearing more about your adventures!! I hope that the gas flows again soon!! Love from Karen, Steve, and Laura too!

    • September 26, 2010 1:51 pm

      Thanks Karen! Glad to hear you’re interested and following along. I really appreciate the support I’ve received from everyone at St. James. . I still need to do the other half of the sunday school ‘shine’ story. I think I’ve found a great church for it – stay tuned!


  4. susaloo permalink
    September 22, 2010 10:27 pm

    this is a comment about your tweet and not necessarily the entry…
    i love that you smile when you see the chickens crossing the road 🙂 heehee 😀

  5. Betty Tansley permalink
    October 3, 2011 8:07 am

    I am a friend of your mom’s We had lunch this week
    Want you to know how proud I am of you and you are so mature
    Praying that God will hold you each day in his loving arms
    You are so beautiful in doing the work you are doing in such a caring , loving way
    Your caring for others
    Hugs to you Betty Tansley

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