The deforestation rate in Uganda is 4.1% per annum. Even though all of this is not directly attributable to wood and charcoal, this represents one of the highest rates of deforestation in Africa. The total charcoal demand in Uganda, according to the National Development Plan III is 2.09 million tonnes as of 2019.
With these growing deforestation realities in Uganda, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ran a call for innovative solutions to reverse the rapid deforestation in the country. The plan was to identify, test and scale-up the most promising solutions to Uganda’s persistent deforestation trend, birthing the Biomass-to Electricity Pilot Project at Mulago National Referral Hospital.
The project was officially commissioned by the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Hon. Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu at the Mwanamugimu Nutrition Unit.
During the project commission, the Acting Executive Director Mulago Hospital, Dr. Rose Byanyima, said that the unit on a daily admits or receives 6-10 severely malnourished children.
“These come with severe complications resulting from malnutrition. She adds that such cases of severe malnutrition escalated in Uganda as a result of new sets of constraints that came with the Covid19 lockdown. Others are causes resulting from families being fatally afflicted by HIV-Aids,” Dr. Byanyima said.
The project, which is supported by UNDP, in partnership with Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) is intended to promote the use of electricity for cooking as opposed to use of biomass such as firewood and charcoal and it targets to convert institutions such as hospitals, schools, prisons, and universities, households, and commercial enterprises countrywide, from using biomass-based energy to electrical energy for cooking services.
The UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Ms. Sheila Ngatia, added that the pilot is meant to be catalytic, bring on board the right partnerships, and foster learning to drive several systemic changes to scale the use of electricity for cooking in social institutions and households.
“This experiment, in addition to informing the design of cooking tariffs, will also potentially inform the regulatory environment for the importation, local production, maintenance and pricing of cooking equipment for large institutions and households,” said Ms. Sheila Ngatia
She further said, “we have the bigger role of converting these learnings into processes that trigger structural transformations in our electricity tariffs, in the pricing of cooking appliances, in our cooking behaviors calling for collaboration from the public sector, our private sector and development partners,” and reiterated UNDP’s continued support to resource mobilize to scale up the initiative.
While commissioning the project, Hon. Nankabirwa noted that biomass is still the primary source of Energy for cooking, with over 96 per cent of the population relying on charcoal or firewood attributing this to tradition, limited access to other sources of Energy and low levels of awareness. The Minister added that this creates serious health challenges to the Country’s population with research revealing diverse respiratory complications such as acute respiratory infections especially in infants. It is on this basis that she implored ERA and other Electricity Sub-sector players to address the bottlenecks to achieving a full transition of the population from using biomass-based energy to using electricity noting that a healthy population, clean and healthy environment guarantee the country the desired sustainable development. However, there are fears of high Electricity Tariffs and unreliable power supply.
According to ERA, there is a designed Special Tariff of 451.4 Uganda Shillings per Kilowatt Hour for institutions and 412 Uganda Shillings per Kilowatt Hour for Domestic consumers under this project. 14.
“We are looking at further lowering the Tariffs as the consumption of Electricity grows. On the issue of Reliability of Electricity Supply, we have put in place a mechanism for enforcing responsiveness to improve the performance of licensees to deliver a quality and reliable service,” said Chief Executive Officer, ERA, Eng. Ziria Tibalwa Waako