The elderly living in old-age homes around Kathmandu are facing an unexpected change in their lifestyle due to the Covid19-induced lockdown. Instead of eating regular meals, they are now having to make do with meals made of chiura (beaten rice) and junk food like dalmoth owing to the shortage of cooking gas in the city.
Social workers running old-age homes in Kathmandu say they are facing an acute shortage of gas, even as charitable people and organizations are supplying daily essentials like rice and lentils.
“More people have been turning up with rice and daal after we reported a shortage of food this week. But we haven’t been able to feed the elderly properly because we don’t have gas. Since we have so many people to cook for, the half cylinder of gas lasts only a few days,” said Dilshobha Shrestha of Ama Ghar, an old-age shelter that supports a total of 43 elderly people in its Gurjudhara and Kalimati branches.
Right from the start of the lockdown, which began on 24 March, there has been a noticeable shortage of cooking gas in the capital, both due to low supply and black marketeering. All this time, the Nepal Oil Corporation has instructed gas bottling companies to sell half-filled cylinders containing only 7.1 kg of gas. On Thursday, however, it announced that it was beginning the sale of full cylinders from 11 April onwards.
Operators of old-age homes have reported that the lack of gas has disproportionately affected octogenarians, many of whom have pre-existing medical conditions and are too old to rely solely on raw or junk food.
“They understand that there is a crisis going on, but their bodies need healthy cooked food. Concerned authorities should pay more attention,” said Shrestha.
Most elderly homes in Kathmandu, which are fully dependent on regular charity and volunteers to feed the elderly, have been tackling the job of providing daily essentials on their own as fewer people have been turning up to help out during the lockdown.
“There has been a significant drop in charity from individuals due to the lockdown. But we are getting help from organizations, powerful individuals and even the police,” said Prem Upreti of Ni:sahaya Sewa Sadan.
Ni:sahaya, home to 36 elderly, said it has received support from NC leader Prakash Man Singh, Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s deputy mayor Hariprabha Khadgi and the Metropolitan Police Range.
“We have plenty of food to go for a few more weeks. What we need now is constant supply of gas,” said Upreti who has so far been using gas cylinders received in charity from suppliers.
Shrestha, meanwhile, said that the lockdown has also affected the supply of fruit and green vegetables as cash support has virtually stopped.
“Earlier, we used to get some cash support to buy these things. But now, this has dried up,” she said.
The lockdown has also affected children’s homes. Gyan Dutta Bhatta of Kalika Bal Bikas Kendra, a children’s home in Old Naikap, said they have been facing shortage of all items including gas.
“It’s a difficult situation since people cannot come to us, even if they want to, and we cannot go out due to the lockdown,” said Bhatta.
Unlike privately run old-age homes, staffers at Pashupati Briddhashram, a government funded old-age home, said they haven’t faced any shortage. In fact, the Briddhashram had to shut its doors to visitors arriving to feed the poor in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“All our staff are also currently living in the ashram and taking care of the elderly,” said an official.