Chad charcoal ban enflames public

A ban on the use of charcoal in Chad is making life hard for people already struggling with high food prices, reports BBC News reporter Celeste Hicks.

Families are being forced to burn furniture, cow dung, rubbish and roots of plants in order to cook.

Since the clampdown was announced – officially in order to help the environment – charcoal has become almost impossible to find.

“I’m using wild products which I’ve harvested, such as palm fruits,” said Nangali Helene, who lives in the capital N’Djamena.

“But they make us ill – they don’t burn properly and they give off a horrid smoke and smell. Last night we started burning the beams from the roof of our outhouse.”

The price of a small bundle of dead wood has shot up from a few hundred CFA francs to 5,000F CFA ($12; £8).

Feelings are running high in the city, with the main opposition coalition organising a peaceful mass action over the next few days.

“We want people to bang on their empty cooking pots every morning to show solidarity for one another,” said Saleh Kebzabo, from the Coalition of Parties for the Defence of the Constitution.

For the moment, street demonstrations are out of the question – a planned rally by women was called off last week when they were denied permission.

Women who did show up claimed they were intimidated by a heavy police presence.

The government says the ban is to deal with an “extraordinary” threat of desertification in Chad, which straddles the Sahel, the semi-arid region bordering the Sahara.

At the forefront of climate change, the environment ministry says more than 60% of Chad’s natural tree cover has been lost due to indiscriminate cutting of trees for charcoal.

“Chadians must be aware of this problem,” said Environment Minister Ali Souleiman Dabye.

“If we don’t do something soon, we will wake up one day and there will be no trees. Then what will people burn?”

But although many people say they understand the need to protect the environment, it is the speed with which the ban has come into effect that has caused such anger.

Late last year, police began seizing trucks carrying charcoal, saying they were illegal.

Several trucks and their contents were set on fire on the outskirts of N’Djamena, but the government denies responsibility for the destruction.

Within weeks prices rocketed and then charcoal disappeared from the market.

The alternatives proposed by the government may seem unrealistic to the average Chadian.

“It’s only in the last 10 years that Chadians have become reliant on charcoal, they can soon learn to adapt to something else,” said the environment minister, keenly expounding the virtues of gas.

But 95% of people do not have gas appliances, and even those that do have to travel to Cameroon to find canisters.

Rumours abound in the local media of women setting themselves on fire because they do not know how to use gas properly.

A deal recently signed between the government and a Nigerian businessman to start cooking gas deliveries is too little too late for Marie Larlem, co-ordinator of the Chadian Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Liberty.

“We understand the need to protect the environment but we find it bizarre that the measures are so brutal and so sudden – no-one was given any warning.

“Why didn’t they do this earlier? Our people have been through enough”.

Chad’s government says there are no plans to relax the ban.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 27/01/2009

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