Use coal briquettes to protect Rufiji river catchments

11Sep 2019
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Use coal briquettes to protect Rufiji river catchments

METHODS will have to be quickly designed and implemented in the wake of a directive by Energy Minister Dr Medard Kalemani on regional administrations in four regions to do what it takes to protect tributary catchment areas to Rufiji river.

The minister was visiting the construction site for the Stiegler’s Gorge Nyerere hydroelectric power station on Monday. The goal is to sustain the water flow into the river via its tributaries to ensure that the 2115-MW power plant now being built shall not face capacity constraints sooner.

The minister was worried about rising economic activities along the water sources as such activities negatively impact the catchment environment and lifespan of rivers.

The regions and districts need to find out how to conduct their activities with caution, something that is usually easier said than done. It isn’t at the district or regional level that lasting solutions can be designed, but enforcement of by-laws will help. No farming near rivers and thus protecting the sources is the most important element in a regulatory sense.

While also talking about devising strategies for protecting catchment areas, the minister more pointedly singled out the need to enforce laws to ensure that the water sources are well protected.

That means there are already sufficient regulations on the spot as to how to ensure that water sources are not encroached, and all there is need is to implement the guidelines and bylaws. That however largely leaves out wider mechanism, of population.

Population increase widens pressure on catchment areas because the population is still predominantly rural, thus needing farmland to meet basic life needs.

In addition, the use of charcoal for cooking is not being offset by either electricity or cooking gas, as families not only fail to purchase gas tanks but often struggle to refill after purchasing. Were the government to obtain a major investor to produce coal that mixes the crushed coal with wood dust and other combustible material like cow dung, waste paper or clothing, heavy oil waste etc, it could make a difference.

A well designed project where the coal would be offered by the government for free and the wastes merely collected would make the coal briquettes far cheaper than charcoal. The tree cutting would be ended so rivers stabilize.

Put differently, it is not just in the Rufiji river hinterland regions of Morogoro, Iringa, Mbeya and Njombe that the threat to water flow is found, but in the city of Dar es Salaam and other major urban areas where charcoal use is predominant. And in villages people are risking life going into the bush to seek firewood, where wild animals are lurking, not just snakes but even elephants.

Making extremely affordable briquettes and leaving the gas to better off families is one thing, but there is also need for economic activities at the household level which use less space and may provide sufficient yield for family needs.

The minister has raised alarm or a precautionary note that the public authorities should not take Rufiji river water for granted, that its flow needs to be protected.

It is vital that workable strategies be put across to enable smooth adaptation. Not just arresting those burning charcoal, those trying to extend farms, open them; it has a political backlash as members of Parliament are elected to represent people, not  to echo government orders.

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