After years of extensive flooding and droughts, Zambians are gradually turning to greener energy technologies to save trees, which could slow the impact of climate change, according to a UN news feature.
Charcoal-fed braziers are being replaced by those burning briquettes made of treated coal waste, which are smokeless and emit low levels of sulphur dioxide gas.
Biogas – a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by fermenting organic matter like animal or human waste, biodegradable waste and municipal solid waste – is also being punted as alternatives to wood fuel.
“Traditional energy sources, especially wood fuel, cause deforestation and serious ecological and environmental degradation in the country,” said Alick Muvundika, head of the water, energy and environment programme at the government-run National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR).
Zambia is listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as one of the top 10 countries with the highest annual deforestation rates. The FAO estimates that Zambia loses about 8,000 hectares of forest every year.
Most of the trees are used as firewood or for producing charcoal, while in many rural areas they are cut and burnt to ash, which is used to improve soil fertility on subsistence farms.
Greener alternatives like the coal briquettes have been available in Zambia since the 1990s, but there have been few takers.
Nasri Safieddine, who designs energy-saving traditional cookers, said there had been little political will to promote these technologies until recently.
Power cuts and the price of charcoal are now prompting urban Zambians to explore the greener energy alternatives, said Mr Muvundika.
A 10kg bag of coal briquettes costs about US$1.50, while Zambians have to shell out US$5 for the same amount of charcoal, and 1.3kg of coal briquettes can burn for six hours, while the same weight of charcoal will burn for only one and a half hours.
Experts say the effects of climate change are most severe in areas where the trees have been cut down.
In Zambia’s Southern Province, which suffered one of the highest and fastest deforestation rates in the 1990s, floods and droughts have become perennial, causing failed harvests and chronic hunger, while other parts of the country have been experiencing shorter rainy seasons with colder winters and warmer summers.
Trees draw ground water up through their roots and release it into the atmosphere, so removing the forests could lead to a drier climate in the region.
Slash-and-burn deforestation also affects the carbon cycle, warming up the atmosphere, and is estimated to be responsible for 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions every year, amounting to one-fifth of the global total.
Joseph Kanyanga, chief meteorologist at the Zambia Meteorological Department, said the country had experienced significant changes in temperature and rainfall patterns over the last 40 years.
“[There have been more] floods than dry spells, especially in recent years, and this is a signal of climatic change in our weather patterns,” he told the UN’s IRIN news service.
“It means that Zambia needs to adjust to environmentally friendly ways of living to avoid such effects as outbreaks of diseases, crop failure, floods and other consequences,” Mr Kanyanga added.
Source: IRIN news service