Environment conservation: Mindset change missing in the government

27Aug 2017
Guardian On Sunday
Environment conservation: Mindset change missing in the government

EFFORTS to preserve the environment and where possible plant trees so as to stabilize climate patterns in the not so far future have been continuing for several years, with each rainy and planting season revealing its side of problems tied to climate change.

One obvious thing to do is to stop cutting down trees for charcoal, apart from vastly diminishing industrial use of wood for instance in furniture making as plastics and hard plastic, or steel and wrought iron, can take the place of much of the wood used.

Indeed wooden materials are an encumbrance in many places and are out of fashion, save in schools, health centres etc, and office desks.

One organization has received praise from various quarters, namely Heifer International Tanzania for its support in relation to environmental degradation by changing people’s mindsets on conservation efforts.

Yet it was disappointing that the non-profit organization was only making an effort at getting people to take up using charcoal saving stoves, a conservation method that was definitely relevant in the early to mid 1990s and no longer makes much sense.

At that time the country has no oil and gas industry to provide a replacement for charcoal, and it has always been a problem, virtually out of our horizon, to take to softened coal dust for fuel.

The singular problem lies with the government as it has failed to transform its attitude and take the problem of depletion of tree cover with the urgency it deserves, preferring a hands-off attitude where environment is at most an issue of factory inspections and fines.

The core of rural and urban energy needs pegged to the use of charcoal escapes government attention for no precise reason, while our neighbours are leaping ahead and adopting alternative energy sources. Towards the end of last year Kenya freed access to gas cylinders, now available without paying.

That sort of measure is what we need so as to completely ban the use of charcoal, and on that basis district authorities can adopt clear cut policies on that basis trees can be harvested for other needs, like building. Roofing or construction of apparels surrounding a building under construction is heavily dependent on wood as there aren’t as yet many obvious replacements save for ladders or scaffolding, which is often wooden but iron types are likely to be available.

School desks are better thought of in plastics, unless there is fear they may be easily stolen due to that, and such plastics don’t have to come from Hong Kong as the designs are easy to adopt.

With the current levels of availability of natural gas in and within Dar es Salaam for instance, the avidly commercial outlook of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals on the matter and a stand-offish parameter of the Treasury are to blame.

They are pulling their feet on making available gas cylinders for free, and then the cost is embedded by a small rise in petroleum prices in particular, rather than cooking gas so as to make both cylinders and the gas itself more readily available and such shift become continuous and sustainable.

Advising people to shift on their own shall fail as obtaining the cash to buy the cylinder isn’t in the ability of each family in towns.

When it comes to rural areas the problem is worsened, but at least within rural settings there is plenty of deadwood which can also be used for energy, and varying instances of using crop residue or manure.

There have been projects to introduce cesspit sourcing of energy but again this requires financial ability of a certain margin. Without abandoning charcoal, wills shall remain transfixed to it.