Its not as simple as it looks.

Whenever the concern of Sustainable Development is brought up, I’m always concerned deeply. This is because according a report by Dhliwayo (2010), sustainable development has subsequently emerged as a new development paradigm which combines social, economic and environmental aspects of development into one single concern. These aspects of development are often called the different dimensions of sustainable development and have become an integral part of most contemporary development strategies. The Brundtland Report (USNRC, 1999) defines sustainable development as:

“Development that meets the needs of the present day without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987:43).

This comes to light as most countries in many parts of Africa are experiencing an increase in the rate of Rural to Urban Migration, which means urban cities are going beyond their capacity. The energy demand offers a more complex situation to governments and power utilities on the energy demand in those cities, as they are already beyond their maximum tolerance ion the side of power provision. Importing the power from neighboring countries is very difficult because it is most likely that the neighbor also has a crisis in their backyard. Therefore the only resolve made in these countries is simply more hours of load-shedding. Load-shedding does not lower the energy demand, it just causes the population to seek alternative sources of energy with the most easily available fuel being firewood (wood-fuel) and therefore forests nearby city centers do not have  chance to replenish. Now already our forests are being threatened by the increase in population and clearing of land for Agriculture and the least they need is now being cut-off for the purpose of power generation in the form of a cooking fuel.

In 1994, Nigeria was the highest consumer for fuel-wood in the West African sub-region. Fuel-wood has become scarce and expensive over the years increasing the distance walked to collect fuel-wood. Rapid population growth has led to forest land being converted to agricultural land to provide food and export crops. Rubber, coffee, cocoa and palm oil plantations have replaced natural forests. The increasing demand for fuel-wood has caused its price to rise relatively more than the price of other fuels in the country (Akarakiri, 2002). I personally feel that the public should be educated so that they appreciate the concept of sustainable development because according to a Chinese proverb;

“We do not inherit the Earth from our fore-fathers but we borrow it from our kids”.

Not only is the practice of cutting down trees environmentally catastrophic, the use of wood-fuel has been proven to be more expensive as compared to charcoal, LPG and biogas. A success story of this shift from biomass use to more modern sources of fuel has been the North African region. North Africa can be characterized in energy terms as an oil and gas sub-region with limited consumption of biomass. However, there are sharp differences between the five countries. In 2001, biomass equalled 5.3% of total energy consumed in Morocco and 17.0% in Tunisia (IEA, 2003; World Resources Institute, 2003b). Algeria and Egypt account for the bulk of primary natural gas consumption. In 2002, the two countries accounted for 23.3 and 19.3 Mtoe respectively, which is about 83% of Africa’s total natural gas consumption (BP Statistical Review, 2003). Algeria is the second largest LPG exporter in the world. A report on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) In Egypt in 2004 said, “Due to major recent discoveries, natural gas is likely to be the primary growth engine of Egypt’s energy sector in the foreseeable future”. Hence the sub-Saharan region needs to emulate such milestones and import this great product from North Africa.

 

In conclusion I will highlight some of the health, environmental and economic issues now faced with countries and households that will continue to use these biomass for cooking and lighting;

Indoor Air Pollution

Incomplete biomass combustion leads to high concentrations of indoor air pollution. This leads to high cases of respiratory diseases such as acute respiratory infections, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive lung disease in households. (Kammen et al, 2001; ESMAP, 2003; Ekouevi, 2001; Ward, 2002). At the household level, women and children are adversely affected by particulate emissions from biofuels smoke because they spend much of their time near biomass-based cooking fires. A study undertaken in rural Kenya found that women, who do most of the cooking, were exposed to twice as much particulate emission as their male counterparts, and were on the average, twice as likely to suffer from respiratory infections (Karekezi and Kithyoma, 2002; Karekezi and Ranja, 1997; Akarakiri, 2002). 

 Environmental Degradation

Biomass harvesting leads to decreased vegetation cover, erosion effects, decreased soil fertility, loss of soil moisture, and loss of biodiversity. In addition, reliance on biomass (especially in the form of charcoal) encourages land degradation. In some areas (for example around major cities such as Lusaka, Zambia; Nairobi, Kenya; and, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) charcoal demand appears to contribute to degradation of the surrounding woodlands and forests (Kammen et al, 2001; Desanker and Zulu, 2001; NTL, 2002; Ekouevi, 2001). Unsustainable charcoal production practices contribute to this degradation. For example, in Tanzania, trees are cut to the ground as opposed to stumps. Thus rather than regenerating, the trees die (NTL, 2002).

Social Burden

Firewood use in the rural and urban households in various African countries is either collected or purchased (Misana, 2001). Firewood collection in Kenya is often the responsibility of women and children. In the rural areas, 90% of the population use collected firewood in comparison to only 20% in the urban areas. In Botswana, the average distance travelled to fuelwood collection points was 6 km and the time taken was about 3.3 hours (Zhou, 2001). The average distance travelled to fet ch firewood in Eritrea is 10 km and in most cases (80-90%) it is the responsibility of women and children (Semere, 2001). According to Mugisha and Klunne (2001), due to expanding sugarcane areas in Uganda, there has been a decline in fuelwood collecting areas leading to longer distances travelled to access fuelwood. Because of travelling long distances to collect firewood, women and children in rural Africa are often left with limited time for other activities resulting in low agricultural productivity and inadequate time to pursue educational opportunities.

This is just a highlight of the problems we faced with if we don’t address our problems today, not to mention the eradication of woodlands for our kids that they will require for their sustenance. I have already begun a research titled, “The determinants of Household Consumption” where I’m trying a behavioral analysis in regards to household energy consumption. Well it will be going for a whole year monitoring 30 households and whatever I discover, you will be the first to know here. 

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