Friday, September 27, 2013

Uganda’s High Population Growth Impacts Energy Sector


Against a background of turbulence from Amin’s era, one thing is certain – population has been growing fast. Given the trends of war, development suffers, including the energy sector. The pattern of high dependence on biomass remained unabated, with continuing depletion of vegetation cover. Urgent need for replanting of trees is necessary, along with measures to increase share of other methods for cooking for the vast majority of Ugandans, not to mention the importance of checking population growth.

Population growth
Uganda’s population has been growing at a fast rate. From a humble 2.24 million people in 1962, there was a phenomenal leap to 7.49 million the following year.

Looking at it at 5-year intervals from 1965 through 2010, we notice a fast growth trend, see chart following:

Implications of population growth
Growth in human numbers has many implications, some positive, others negative. It also very much depends on the country situation, whether highly productive and requiring substantial labor, skills at different levels for deployment, abundance of resources, export potential in terms of goods, services and skills, beside a host of other considerations.

The situation of Uganda in respect of fast increasing population needs to closely look at: 
  • Food supply: more is required, and with greater dependence on local production, more effort is required to guarantee food security;
  • Energy supply: more people mean more energy, assuming limited related parameter changes;
  • Land: with near-total local food sourcing for the majority population, more arable land is required, assuming same productivity, crop and animal breeds etc;
  • Pressure on land: while more people require more dwelling / homestead land, there is also greater need for it in terms of both food and energy production;
  • Productivity: the falling levels of vegetation and tree cover mean more time spent on both getting adequate quantities of food for survival, and, search for firewood; and,
  • Other economic activity: these suffer due to need for more time to meet food and energy needs, to mention but a few.
A spiraling population means you do not only have more mouths to feed, but also a host of parameters to contend with, with only a few of them cited above.

Loss of forest cover
The indiscriminate cutting of trees in the past was responsible for loss of much of our hard woods. While some was exported, others fed the local market for construction applications and furniture making. 

Today, much of the hard wood is reported to be imported from beyond our borders – Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Southern Sudan reportedly.

Various reports have decried loss of forest cover, viz:
Clearly, the situation is alarming.

Remedial measures needed
The necessary actions span a number of areas. These relate to institution of forest regeneration policies by government, improving cooking efficiency in rural areas, and, controlling population growth.  

Forest regeneration
I have heard of sayings such as ‘cut one tree plant two’ which I believe are part of the right mindset in our present circumstances. This pre-supposes that there are indeed trees that deserve cutting, but just in case the contrary is true, other deliberate programmes need to be put in place.

Along this path, we have great confidence in the National Forestry Authority (NFA) in the country to take the bull by its horns, in proposing a feasible action plan that ought to be implemented at the earliest.

Planting nurseries
Experts have made this route a very good one in achieving recovery. This route should indeed ensure that the right type is made available for planting to different groups.

What we probably need is a legislative instrument to make this enforceable country-wide if not existing already, with the prospect of achieving a steady recovery path for the essential cover.

Improved stoves
While we need to commend the various efforts to make and disseminate such stoves, we seem to have a very long way to go.

One major area from the energy perspective is the overwhelming dependence on biomass as a source of energy, way beyond 90 percent. As such, the rudimentary cooking approaches need to be relegated to history archives.

Upgrading energy technologies in general
Although biomass is at the bottom of the efficient technologies, an overall effort to raise standards of energy use across board would have a trickle-down effect at the grassroots.

This challenge is currently being sought, but much more needs to be done if we are to make some noticeable impact at the lowest levels of users.

Population growth
The sheer numbers alone can be a burden if not sufficiently educated to contribute to meaningful development through participation in industrial and other high-skill output areas.

Unfortunately, high numbers with low skills can draw us into a vicious cycle increasing poverty and suffering, a tendency that need to be vigorously fought. This is a challenge for us all – government, the private sector, and, the individual citizenry. Government has to play the lead role, with all of us rendering it unwavering support.

Tags: population growth, energy, food security, pressure on land, forest cover, forest regeneration, nurseries      

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