islamabad - Muhammad Bilal and Murad Ali, both in their mid-20s, sitting on a pile of wood in a donkey cart, emerged from a jungle near Rawal Lake. The cart is loaded with deadwood, fallen branches and trunk pieces which have been painstakingly collected in the jungle.

Like other lower-middle class dwellers of the city, the energy shortage has forced them to scavenge for wood. “Due to the gas shortage, we use wood for cooking and sometimes for heating when the mercury plummets to zero,” said Muhammad Bilal. “We have only one day off, on Sunday. Since the beginning of the ongoing gas crisis we come to the jungle on each weekend to scavenge for wood.”

According to Murad Ali, they (the wood scavengers) collect the fallen, dead or damaged trees or branches and cut no living wood. “We enjoy our adventure in the jungle while searching for deadwood and then the donkey cart ride,” he chuckled, without realising that the donkey is struggling to pull a heavy cartload of wood and above all, the two young men too.

Since the gas crisis has worsened, and the use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or electric heater is beyond the access of the common man, the poor and less well-off families have switched to the old traditional coal and wood burning stoves, the only available option for them. “When the weather is very cold we sit on the hearth and warm ourselves before the fire,” said Imaduddin who was pulling a bicycle loaded with woods in Shakarparian.

Wood scavenging has become such a common practice in Islamabad that the packrats are found all around the city. They collect tree branches, twigs and shavings of woods in different jungles of the area. Everywhere you will see women carrying wood on their heads; men carrying load of fireworks on their back; donkeys pulling carts loaded with wood; bundle of twigs tied over bicycle or motorbike; special pouches made over bicycle for wood shavings; small cars carrying bundles of woods in roof racks.

“I get up before dawn to make tea for my husband, as he goes early morning for work. For this purpose, I use a small liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder while we burn woods for rest of the cooking and sometimes for warming,” said Bibi Jan who was collecting woods near Lok Virsa in Shakarparian.

Her old clothing and black plastic shoes narrate the tale of her poverty. Bibi Jan comes to the jungle and after collecting some bundles of woods arranges transportation to take the woods to her home.  “The shortage of gas has compelled us to scavenge for the wood, otherwise we have gas connections,” she said.

Some small families can afford to cook their meals with LPG but when it comes to large family setup, it is almost impossible. As the winter has set in, the LPG marketing companies started raising the price of gas. At the start of winter, the price of one kilogram LPG was around Rs 100 while today it is available at Rs 170 per kg in Islamabad and its surroundings.

“It is not only the cooking; we have to boil water for bathing and washing purposes; sometime we have to keep our rooms warm. All these jobs are no possible with LPG, so when the pressure of gas is down, burning of woods becomes compulsory,” said Ali Muhammad who lives in Shahzad Town. However, every house doesn’t have the facility of fireplace. “If there is no proper fireplace then the owners don’t allow their tenants to make fire in their houses, as smoke causes stains on ceiling and walls.” Under such circumstances, according to him, stoves with exhaust facilities could be used both for cooking and heating.

With the current energy crisis, a surge has been witnessed in the demand of wood-burning stoves in the federal capital. Babar Qureshi, a craftsman in Islamabad Aabpara Market, makes wood-burning stoves and heat chambers. He also deals in some other products but it is peak season for stoves and chambers. “The weather is cold while the gas pressure either remains low or in some parts of the twin cities completely zero, so under such circumstance people rely on wood-burning stoves and heating chambers.” According to the craftsman, he could not meet the demand of the customers with the production of his own shop, so he brings stoves from wholesale market in Rawalpindi. “Many people have inclined to wood scavenging or cutting of wood in jungle. Besides stoves, I have a number of customers demanding saws and axes for cutting woods,” said Qureshi. “The price of a small-sized saw is Rs 220 while the cheapest small-sized axe is available at Rs 160 in my shop.”

Arsalan is a shopkeeper in the neighbourhood of Babar Qureshi in Aabpara Market. These days coal is one of the best selling items in his shop, as people are relying over stoves to cook their meals. “Coal’s demand has increased due to gas crisis. However, the price of coal is the same i.e. Rs 70 per kilogram.”

Some businessmen in twin cities who deal in woods say that the demand of firewood has increased with the shortage of gas. One kilogram of firewood is available at Rs 15 in the market. Shamsuddin who works in a Taal (out-door shop for woods) located near Laal Masjid Islamabad said, “We supply firewood and coal to different hotels, restaurants and food caterers. Recently I have witnessed some customers demanding coal in small quantities for burning stoves and hearths.”  To make a fire, according to Shamsuddin, at the initial stage one needs adding small quantity of coal or kerosene oil to twigs or logs in the fireplace.

Tariq Khan, who hails from Mardan, has rented a small house near Golra Sharif. He is a taxi driver by profession and lives with his wife and four children. Unlike his neighbours, the family of Tariq has no concern with gas shortage, as from the beginning it uses firewood for cooking and for boiling water. Apart from buying some logs in the market, his children scavenge twigs and branches of trees for making fire. Due to gas crisis, as many people have switched to traditional stoves and hearths, Tariq seems worried that scavenging at such a large scale could cause the shortage of (free) woods.