The lack of alternative energy sources is the leading factor why Ugandans continue to descend on forests to cut down trees to collect firewood and burn charcoal, the executive director of National Environment Management Authority, Dr. Tom Okurut confessed.
Dr. Okurut was speaking on Tuesday during a meeting where the Authority hosted three ministers from Ministry of Water and Environment. Sam Cheptoris, the Minister for Water and Environment, and his deputies Ronald Kibule in charge of water and Maria Gorreti in charge of environment were on a familiarization tour of the statutory body.
Uganda's main source of energy is biomass acquired from national resources like tress and other fossils. Burning of renewable resources provides approximately 90 percent of the energy in Uganda because it is affordable, readily available unlike alternatives like electricity and solar.
Charcoal, a solid black substance got after burning tree logs, is most used domestically to cook, provide heat and light, in rural and urban areas. The demand for charcoal increases every day as population and urbanization continues to grow. This has resulted into climate challenges like global warming.
To revert the challenge, Dr. Okurut said they are working with local government across the country to reduce the cutting down of trees to get charcoal. This is proving to be a remedy in northern Uganda where success is being registered in Otuke district.
‘In Otuke, cutting down of trees has gone down by 80%.” Dr. Okurut told the ministers inside the Authorities boardroom. He blamed the burning of charcoal on lack of alternative energy sources like solar or electricity. He said while the citizens want charcoal for their daily lives, the process ‘should be done in a sustainable manner.
The state minister for water Ronald Kibuule asked NEMA to put in place regional offices to help in environment conservation including reducing the cutting down of trees to get charcoal. He vouched for NEMA to start a tree planting crusade. “Let us not just talk about charcoal burners but also encourage planting of trees.” he told NEMA.
Cheptoris, the Minister of Water and Environment, in his speech, said that the Authority should increase sensitization so that people are educated. “Make sure people understand and appreciate the action you are taking.” He advised.
Alternative sources of energy
The mainstream alternative source of energy is hydroelectricity and solar but the two are expensive and not readily available in rural areas. The coverage of electricity in Uganda still remains in major towns however the demand for electricity has been growing at an average of 10% per annum which government is struggling to meet leading to dramatic load shedding.
Uganda has installed hydro electricity supply of about 800MW but this will grow to about 4,356MW by 2035. Government is undertaking a number of big and small hydro power projects across the country to increase supply and meet demand.
The level of solar energy utilization in Uganda is still very low. The use of solar is mainly driven by donor-funded programmes for lighting and vaccine refrigeration in health centers and rural schools. Domestic use is also picking up in rural areas as forest are depleted. The cost and maintenance of solar panels is an impediment.
Other alternatives to get include thermal power, oil and natural gas, wind energy, cogeneration, fossil fuels and biomass among others. Both government and private investors are injecting money to generate energy at a cheaper cost. Once realized this reduced the burden on natural resources but most especially forests and preserve the environment.