UGANDA: WILL ‘GO GREEN CAMPAIGN’, ELECTRICITY PRICE SUBSIDY SALVAGE ENVIRONMENT DESTRUCTION?

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Nwoya district chairman, Mr. Patrick Okello-Oryema, is in afforestation campaign.

“Kampala’s carbon footprint is seen quite literally in the clearing of forests in the rest of the country for charcoal. The charcoal frontier reached in northern Uganda after the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war. Here, the charcoal industry found cheap nature-cheap because the people were vulnerable, landscapes were damaged and societies under pressure. The devastation that followed was that entire forests are disappearing and landscapes lay waste”

GULU-UGANDA: The effects of ‘Climate Change’ is being felt across the world and Africa is no exception; from cyclones, floods, draughts and extreme weather patterns means man is responsible for destroying the planet earth.

In Africa, charcoal is the primary energy source for about 80% of urban households, and its rapidly growing urban populations mean that charcoal consumption is expected to rise another 50% between 2010 and 2030.

In Uganda, charcoal is the primary energy source for about 70% of urban households, rising to 90% in the Capital City of Kampala, according to a scholar, Dr. Adam Branch from the University of Cambridge.

He says two million metric tons of charcoal is produced each year in Uganda, and with Uganda’s urban population expected to double between 2010 and 2040, charcoal demand is estimated to be increasing annually at up to 6%.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates that 80,000 hectares of forest are being cleared annually in Uganda for char- coal and timber, whereas it was only 50,000 in 2004. Estimates range from 0.9% to 3.1% of forest being lost annually.

“Kampala’s carbon footprint is seen quite literally in the clearing of forests in the rest of the country for charcoal. The charcoal frontier reached in northern Uganda after the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war. Here, the charcoal industry found cheap nature-cheap because the people were vulnerable, landscapes were damaged and societies under pressure. The devastation that followed was that entire forests are disappearing and landscapes lay waste”, says Dr. Branch.

In 2006, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government of General Yoweri Museveni adopted a deliberate policy to spend more on transport infrastructure, electricity generation & transmission and defense so as to move to a Middle Income status. So many roads were upgraded to bitumen standards, spurring economic activities and a number of electricity power dams built, including Karuma Dam, which is slated to generate 600 MW of power.

A 2014 National Census report says 51.4% of urban population now uses electricity for lighting while those of rural population are only 10.3%. However, a paltry 4.4% of the urban population uses electricity for cooking while the percentage of those in the rural area is only 1.2%. The unit cost of electricity has also come down from $8 cents Pkwh to $5 cents Pkwh and is expected to come down thereby increasing domestic consumption once Karuma dam is completed at the end of 2019.

The government recently launched a new policy of free connection to the national grid to increase domestic consumption for customers which need only one electricity pole. They want to increase access from a paltry 70,000 in 2018 to over 300,000 new connections per year by the year 2020. The policy will also see 117 sub-county headquarters connected to the national grid at a cost of $200 million.

Many more new customers can now afford the $10.5 inspection and connection fees instead of the previous $165 charged for a single pole by the distributor, UMEME.

Meanwhile individuals, local authorities and development partners are taking it upon themselves and are already embarking on massive tree planting to replace the ones cut for charcoal and timber as a mitigating move to combat climate change and fight looming famine.

The Uganda Police Environmental Protection Unit is also busy traversing the country and arresting those who destroy forests, encroach on wetlands and deal in illegal charcoal business.

As part of its corporate social responsibilities, members of the Gulu based Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) travelled to Nwoya district on Thursday May 2, 2019, where they planted trees at the district headquarters. Strong storm blew off some of the roofs there because these buildings had no windbreaks.

The question we should ask ourselves is; will all these initiatives by government spur up demand for electricity? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

The answer is ‘yes’ because very many consumers will now be able to be connected to the national grid for lighting purposes but not for cooking purpose since charcoal is still far cheaper to use than electricity or gas.

What government needs to do is put total ban on charcoal use for cooking in big institutions like schools, hospital and also hotels. All these institutions should use electricity or gas for cooking instead of depending on charcoal.

The answer is ‘no’ because we are destroying more trees for charcoal, timber and clearing land for commercial agriculture than we are replacing them by planting new ones. We are not caring for the trees we have planted.

What needs to be done is put in place a law on reforestation and to punish those who don’t observe this law. A simple law like ‘cut one tree, plant ten new ones’ can do miracles in mitigating climate change.

The government should consider bringing down the unit cost of electricity further, reduce tax on those who import cookers for sale and also to subsidize the unit cost of electricity so as to make it much cheaper to use for cooking than charcoal, if we are to reduce pressure on our forests.

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