Reviews & Profiles
Resource rich Kasese struggles for energy
Posted Friday, January 4 2013 at 00:00
It is easier to get food in Kasese than finding firewood to prepare it. That is the irony in the district so rich with natural resources, but, whose forest cover is being lost at a very fast rate.
The rising sun calmly casts its gentle rays across Kasese town to illuminate the Mount Rwenzori ranges in the opposite western direction. Gradually, the rays get stronger exposing short green grass that carpet the mountain slopes. On the eastern side, savannah bush land, which is home to wildlife, completes the circuit.
Once the dry season sets in January however, bare rocks over which hot air floats unleash the heat on the dwellers in the lowlands, replacing the greenery.
In the town centre, businesses gradually begin to pick up for the day. There is a peculiar sight too, of women, men and children carrying bundles of sticks for firewood. The sight is too frequent to be ignored.
I met Joy Baheni, a housewife from Kidodo village along Kasese -Mbarara highway. She carried a baby on her back and balanced a bundle of sticks on her head. She tells me how horrible the wood supply situation has got.
“Sometimes, my children go without lunch because I could not get firewood to prepare the food. But then, I have to struggle to make sure that they do not go to bed without the evening meal,” she said. The struggle means two things for Baheni; buying charcoal or firewood using the little money she earns from doing casual labour in people’s gardens since she does not own any land. In extreme cases –when she does not have the money, she trespasses into any garden and picks the firewood.
“Sometimes, I get firewood from people’s gardens without their permission. When the owners are there, I ask. They sometimes allow me to pick some firewood but sometimes they refuse. It is a very difficult situation here when it comes to firewood for cooking because even charcoal is very expensive,” she said.
Kasese District in the western part of the country is 400km from the capital city, Kampala. It is one of the districts of Uganda that borders DRCongo. It lies on the leeward side of the mountain implying that it receives very little rainfall that support short term crops and those resistant to prolonged drought like cotton and cassava.
However, it is naturally endowed with minerals like copper, gold, limestone and national parks that teem with wildlife that make up for the dry marginal land.
Far from bringing wealth and health to the people, the exploitation of these minerals has largely contributed to the deforestation of the natural forests.
The forests are either cleared to give land for mining or for getting firewood used to bake limestone especially by the artisanal miners. Artisanal miners use very huge logs to bake. The aftermath is dire and Baheni’s struggle depicts people’s resilience in coping with the wood shortages. With no forest cover left, the question now is, how the people get the wood supply.
“Individual wood lands are not there, so we are importing charcoal and timber from DR Congo and the neighbouring districts. People are also encroaching on community forests and protected areas. To say that we are secure in terms of wood is a lie,” said Augustine Kooli, senior environment officer, Kasese.
Electricity for factories
Although the district receives little rainfall, it nevertheless has three functional mini-hydropower stations built along River Mubuku from which electricity is generated.
The energy generated is connected to the national grid. It would be presumed that the energy generated would cater for the domestic energy needs, but a greater percentage is sold to the mining companies like Hima Cement and Kasese Cobalt Company Limited.
They too hardly get enough supply. Hima Cement, for example, uses additional energy from biomass. This scenario means that the people will continue to rely on biomass energy for a long time. Kasese dwellers are not alone. According to the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) State of Environment Report of 2010, more than 98 per cent of households in Uganda rely on biomass energy for cooking and lighting.
While the shortage of wood products in Kasese provides business opportunities, there is evidence that it is already escalating the impacts of mining on forests where mining does not happen.