Monthly Archives: February 2014

Where Is The Blackwood?

Simon Batchelor from Gamos offers his thoughts on the importance of considering charcoal use as a fuel option, even in urbanising areas.

As David Mann of UMU points out in last week’s blog, “wood and charcoal still represent roughly 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in the country (Uganda).” He goes on to say that “as Ugandan cities grow and develop, the fuels used in transportation, industry, refrigeration, lighting and entertainment become more diverse; we see gasoline, paraffin, diesel, and electricity increasing their share of the energy mix.”  This energy mix is important for Africa municipalities, although wood and charcoal remain a mainstay.  Remember that cooking remains the largest single use of energy in an urban household.  Even in a large city like Kampala charcoal looms large.

Using Measure DHS data we can show  in the figure below that charcoal was a dominant choice of cooking fuel in Kampala in 2011.  Each dot represents a cluster of respondents, and each red dot shows that between 75% to 100% of households surveyed in that cluster were using charcoal for cooking.   Only in a few areas at the very centre of Kampala do the number of households using charcoal drop to below 50%.

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So given the prevalence of charcoal for cooking, it must feature in designs for the future?  Given our focus on modernity, and the irrelevance of charcoal to the mega cities of the Western world it is easy to marginalise the role of charcoal.  Consider the Future Proofing Cities report.  This scoping study sought to “help national and regional  government and development agencies understand the environmental risks to growth and poverty reduction in cities to target investment and support at those urban areas or greatest need”.   It “assesses the risks to cities from climate hazards, resource scarcities, and damage to ecosystems and how they can act now to future proof themselves.

This comprehensive report addresses the balance to be struck between urban growth and development on one hand, and environmental damage on the other. Energy is indeed one of the factors considered, but when it comes to the use of biomass specifically, it lists a biomass power plant and tree planting as options for Bangkok.  Although it does acknowledge the use of fuelwood (almost in passing), it fails to mention ‘charcoal’ specifically, and only touched on deforestation as a contributor to the complex agriculture water erosion nexus.  This is not to criticise the report team, but rather to illustrate how a focus on modern approaches to urban development can easily overlook a simple, but currently a major, energy source in Africa.

Charcoal will remain important for cities in Africa for the foreseeable future, and we need to bring it into any discussion of, as David puts it, ‘energy production and usage at the scale of the municipality’.

SAMSET – a much needed look at energy in Ugandan cities

David Mann from Uganda Martyrs University offers his thoughts on the importance of the SAMSET research at this crucial juncture in Uganda’s urban development.

As other bloggers have already pointed out, energy is indeed at the heart of development and human welfare around the world. Ugandans are migrating from the countryside to towns and cities in search of the services and opportunities that these urban areas provide. Ideally, there are clinics, schools, and shops, and there is running water, entertainment, and perhaps most importantly, employment. But almost all of these urban promises require energy in one form or another and keeping up with the pace of development (at affordable prices) has proved difficult for both the electrical grid and the petrol station.

It is important to bear in mind that wood and charcoal still represent roughly 90 per cent of the total energy consumed in the country. However, as Ugandan cities grow and develop, the fuels used in transportation, industry, refrigeration, lighting and entertainment become more diverse; we see gasoline, paraffin, diesel, and electricity increasing their share of the energy mix. Efforts by government, private enterprise and development organizations to bring photovoltaic technology to households have met with some success and advocates for the preservation of biodiversity and forest cover aim at reducing charcoal use through the introduction of efficient stoves and alternative means of water purification. There are also major internationally financed projects aimed at increasing electrification (currently 8 per cent of population), hydroelectric production, and the efficiency of household appliances.

The recent discovery of oil reserves in the west of the country is likely to change the resource equation and enlarge the government coffers to finance infrastructure development. The debates about the impact this discovery will have on energy usage and urban economies will be enriched with the findings of new research such as that supported under the SAMSET project.

Much of the ongoing research is either looking at the national energy policies or the purchasing decisions of individual households. SAMSET takes the unique approach of attempting to study energy production and usage at the scale of the municipality – a boundary within which thousands of people make daily decisions affecting energy, but also where a government might be able to better influence those decisions through regulation, promotion, and procurement. The team here at Uganda Martyrs University is eager to work with academics, policy makers and community leaders to better understand the drivers of energy consumption as well as the potential solutions using the tools of urban planning, civil engineering, architecture, and others. This will not be an easy task as the problems are indeed quite “wicked”, but considering the early stage of development of many secondary towns in Uganda (most with population over 100, 000), setting up implementable systems and policies is very likely to have an excellent Sustainable Energy payback.

Municipalities: The Cities of Tomorrow

Alex Ndibwami of Uganda Martyrs University offers his perspective on urbanisation in Uganda, and its energy challenges.

Today’s municipalities as we know them are the cities of tomorrow.  I have come to terms with the fact that cities are inevitable but, much as development of any sorts borrows from global trends, it is also possible to plan how sustainably a society will harness the resources the environment provides.  If only as a warning, it has been predicted that the least developed countries unfortunately, will have the least resilience in the event of any [imminent] natural disasters – the consequence of a wasteful attitude toward our natural resources.

Top of the list of resources is energy, or rather where it is harnessed.  Energy at a social level contributes to how we live, how we work, how we relate, how we think and how we consume.  But for some time and now, today – the main question is about how efficiently it is used and how accessible it is.

In Uganda, like any other (Sub-Saharan African) society, there are a number of different sources of energy and end uses.  Hydro is a ‘popular’ albeit unreliable source of energy and in households for example, this electricity: is used for lighting, cooking, among other household needs or luxuries.  Nationally though, wood based fuel is the most utilised resource because it is not only affordable, but fits within the traditional way of living and preparing meals.  The urban dimension of things however, requires us to look beyond that household threshold to how accessible for example electricity is and how efficiently oil/gas is used and perhaps what alternatives there are in order to mitigate the impacts of (uncontrolled) consumption at both domestic and commercial scale.

But, this is not a concern of many a consumer, because all they need to know is how to survive.  Research initiatives are one way to fill this gap – to advance knowledge on how to deal with some of these issues.  As such, it is a great privilege to be part of such a formidable team.  Indeed, SAMSET is well situated to cater to as wide a context for Africa in West Africa (Ghana), East Africa (Uganda) and Southern Africa (South Africa); and such seasoned partners from the United Kingdom.  The Faculty of the Built Environment at Uganda Martyrs University is committed to research on energy and SAMSET adds an action-oriented dimension for which we are eager to undertake.  The level of service delivery and how far issues to do with energy are understood varies in each context; what is common though is that it ought to be improved.  In this regard, the first network meeting reiterated the need for a careful stakeholder analysis and appreciation of cultures of reception.  As such, for SAMSET to make significant strides, the selection of stakeholders has to take into account the contribution they will make and how strategically situated they are – in local government, community based organisations and the like.  In addition, we will be dealing with municipal councils and their constituents whose context we have to appreciate for them to embrace any interventions.

We look forward to a successful project.

60 Years of the UCL Development Planning Unit

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The Development Planning Unit from University College London has been working on urban development and planning in developing countries since its establishment in 1954. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL’s global faculty of the built environment.

Research at DPU focuses currently on ‘urban transition’, notably institutional paths in service and infrastructure production with understanding of the spatiality of urban poverty. Particular attention is given to the peri-urban context, characterised by rapidly expanding unmet needs. The DPU looks notably at the social complexity in policy planning linked to rapid urbanization. It also has a growing interest on how urban planning can improve city resilience to shocks notably linked to climate change.

DPU is not just involved in research but also in capacity building and action-oriented work in developing countries. It has accumulated a considerable body of research over the last decades. An international conference to celebrate the 60 years of DPU entitled “Thinking Across Boundaries: Re-Imagining Planning in the Urban Global South” will be held from 2-4 July 2014.

https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/dpu