Government should take steps to bring down the country’s reliance on fossil fuels below the current 85% population reliance to be a good global citizen on climate change. Uganda, which signed Paris agreement on climate change in October 2015, could now shift its focus to implementing the pacts.
To both her 34.8 million people growing at an annual rate of 3.2%, one of the fastest in the entire world, Uganda pledged a 22% cuts in carbondixide emissions in 2030 compared to business-as-usual. The estimated emissions in 2030 is 77.3 Million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MtCO2eq/yr), according to the INDC.
The country has already paida heavy price to the potentially catastrophic buildup of the human-derived greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that makes the country most vulnerable to global warming and climate change impacts. Northern and eastern Uganda has experienced both droughts and floods in 2007 floods, following the heaviest rainfall in 35 years, which destroyed crops and affected thousands of people.All these have a nexus with lack of efficient clean energy option.
From the elixir of unprecedented reduction of water in the shores of Lake Victoria to the core of the mudslide storythat buried over 360 people in Mt Elgon’s rolling slopes of Bududa district in 2010, fossil fuel energy’s overlapping phantoms haunts.
The chairman of the eastern Bududa district suggested that the death toll could be as high as 450 as nearlya hundred more of his flock went missing and presumed dead; including up to 60 children who took refuge in a nearby health centre that was subsequently destroyed
President Yoweri Museveni, while inspecting the disaster; walking over chunks of mud burying families declared to one of his closest security personnel with whom he was in tandem that he had never seen“such a disaster in his entire life anywhere in the country.”
What caused this mega mudslide? This was the first question casted upon the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness even before plans to extend handouts such as the relocation of the over 3000 affected families.Even thegovernment’s bankrolling to provide temporary shelter and food that followed cannot match a simple magic bullet Uganda needs to fight deforestation, one of the primary, yet still multifaceted causes of mudslides in the country.
As the government was drawing plans to assist the affected people, in 2011, the same disaster reoccurred. This time round, it was even more disastrous burying two villages of Namaga and Bunakasala in the Bumwalukani Sub County in the same Bududa district. Estimated 450 more died.
At global level, about 40% of all the carbon emitted by human activity has come from cutting forests. In Uganda, forests provide fuel-firewood. According to an economic survey by J.E.M. Arnold and Jules Jongma theChief of the Plans Unit of the FAO Forestry Department, an estimated 86% of all the wood consumed annually is used as fuel.
As Uganda’s population grows, this dependence leads inexorably to pressures on the wood resource which all too often have resulted both in the destruction of the forest and in a worsening of the situation of millions of individuals whose life is conditioned by the products of the forest.
A survey also reveals that the Mt Elogon slopes was one of the record forested reserves the country was proud of untilthe 1970s. Deforestation is a major harbinger of weather related disasters toa country that hasn’t yet produced a barrel of petroleum (though is preparing to unearth 6.5 billion barrels of oil).
The state minister for Environment,Dr Goretti Kitutu blamesthe Bududa District mudslides to lack of appropriate energy solutions. “Locals have encroached the steep slopes of Mount Elgon National Park,” Dr Kitutu cried, “in search of firewood and arable land for agriculture.”
“And when 52 millimeters of rainfall came for two days, we had a disaster…villages were wept out and only 8 people survived, and they are tramautised up today,” she said at a training of judicial and officers of the directorate of public prosecution in Entebbe, Wakiso District.
Realising that Solar and Wind Energy that provides enough energy for heavy-duty household chores say cooking, may still be expensive to the local Ugandans, the government now and in the past has tried to push for development of alternative energy sources.
Biomass Briquettes and their Potential
Briquettes are an alternative fuel source that is currently gaining concordin Uganda, which have also been successfully integrated into the economy in other developing countries such as China and Thailand. Briquettes are composed of commonly found organic household waste, such as peanut shells, banana peels, corn husks, sawdust etc. and are compressed either by hand or by briquette machine into small dense products that can be used instead of charcoal and excess amounts of wood harvested from nearby forests.
Crops grown in Uganda such as maize, cereals, roots, cane sugar and coffee all produce residues that are suitable for briquetting as does dried organic municipal solid waste (MSW). Data provided by the government indicates that 1.2 million tonnes of agricultural litters are available each year and an additional 1,500 tonnes of MSW are likely to be produced in the capital city Kampala daily. These two sources combined provide a theoretical limit which indicates that at most 6% of the country’s total wood consumption and up to 50% of the charcoal trade could be replaced by briquettes from waste.
The good news is the compressed-wastes are less expensive than both charcoal and dried tree stems. In recent years Uganda has faced steady increases in charcoal prices. In 2008, the average price of a 40 kg charcoal sack was USh15,000 (US$6) and during 2009 it rose to USh25,000 (US$10), an increase of 66% in just twelve months. Prices increased substantially again in 2011, with the cost of a sack in the capital Kampala reaching USh60,000 (US$24). Today a sack is 70,000 ($28).
Meanwhile, 4 pieces of firewood (which is estimated to substitute 3.3 kg of charcoal) were sold for Ush2,000 (US$0.8). Research by the Uganda Briquettes Association expects Ush80,000 (US$33) of charcoal to last 2 weeks, whereas Ush80,000 Briquettes would last for between 4 to 10 weeks, depending on the family size and cooking frequency.
Eco-fuel Africa works with local communities to turn farm and municipal waste into clean burning fuel briquettes and organic fertilizers. Its CEO Sanga Moses, a Ugandan native contributes to the faith that this innovative energy solutions but cites raising capital as a challenge. “Banks charge very high interest rates and ask for a lot of collateral security that organizations like ours do not have while other forms of capital are simply no-existent,” says he. “This limits our ability to rapidly expand as our demand exceeds supply”
In tandem with achieving the agreed carbon cuts, it is high time the government provides special support in areas such as skills development and low interest loan schemes to promote the use of biomass fuel. This will slow down the rates of deforestation, and, if complemented with efforts like afforestation, we will survive the severe tragedies caused by cutting down forests and thrive in a cooling globe below 1.5-degree Celsius.
By Boaz Opio, environmentalist