Uganda: Plight of people who live with a Charcoal scarcity

“The country is already neck-deep in the firewood crisis,” says
Dritch. “Now, people are paying for not taking action.” She sends out
her three young daughters to scavenge for whatever their little hands
can get in order to have food ready. Charcoal, which used to be a
cheap and easy source of energy for the poor like Kamara has become
expensive. “We can no longer afford to use charcoal everyday,” she
says. In a survey conducted by The New Vision, a sack of charcoal goes
for an average of sh30,000 up from sh25,000 in October-November.
According to Paul Dritch, a biomass expert, the current crisis was
predicted more than a decade ago, following studies on Uganda’s trees
and shrubs used as a source of firewood and charcoal.

The average
price of charcoal was sh 15,000 last year, but has remained unstable.
In Byeyogerere, Kireka and Banda, the prices range from sh28,000 to
sh30,000 per sack. In other areas of Kampala like Portbell and Ggaba a
sack goes for sh17,000 up from sh15,000 per sack. But the bags are
smaller and the quality of charcoal coming from the islands of Lake
Victoria is inferior compared to that from Nakasongola. However,
Dritch says the energy crisis is ‘localised’ meaning that some areas
have been hit by the scarcity, while others have in abundance. For
instance, Kampala’s population is experiencing large deficits and can
hardly meet the wood-fuel needs. The city, whose population is the
largest in the country, depends on fuel wood from areas like
Nakasongola. This has depleted the reserves that used to produce
charcoal. As a result, charcoal dealers have moved further to parts of
Apac, Gulu and Kitgum from where they ferry charcoal to feed the
energy-thirsty residents of Kampala. In parts of Tororo, Arua and
Kabale the energy sources are over-stretched and people find it
cheaper to buy food than firewood. Dritch says people spend a
significant proportion of their income on fuel for cooking. “This,
coupled with rent in reasonable areas of Kampala, takes over 40% of
the incomes of average workers.” To get round the crisis some people
have turned to cassava and maize stalks, rice husks and sometimes
grass. But the use of crop residues to cook is likely to trigger
another crisis, says Dritch.
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