- The environmentally dangerous production of charcoal has increased tenfold in Somaliland capital Hargeisa during the last five years. The government has already banned charcoal exports and now considers to ban the entire industry to avoid further deforestation.
An assessment of charcoal production between 1997 and 2002 was carried out by the Ministry of Pastoralism and the Environment in Somaliland, focusing on three urban towns: Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao. In Hargeisa, production had increased from around 100 to over 1000 metric tons during these five years - far beyond sustainable levels.
According to a new report by Mahdi Kayad, Livestock Officer of the Somalia-based agency Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU), the increased wood fuel and charcoal production is now having an impact on the environment and livelihoods in Somaliland and Somalia.
Until, the late 1950's it appears that the production of wood fuel and charcoal had little noted impact on the environment. Mr Kayad notes. This however changed in the 1960's when the increasing growth of populations in urban areas and the accompanying demand for energy, combined with charcoal exports, meant deforestation was occurring at an alarming rate.
As a result, between 1969 and 1991 the Somali government banned charcoal exportation. With the subsequent collapse of the government, charcoal production and burning re-commenced at ever more destructive rates. In Somalia proper, production is only increasing, but in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, government is aiming at regulating the industry.
- Charcoal is produced from the acacia Bussei hardwood tree and is found in high densities in Sanag, Sool, Bari, Togdheer, Galbeed, Bay and Bakol, according to the FSAU report. In the short term, cutting down trees removes valuable fodder and forest products from the livestock sector, decreases wildlife habitats, increases soil erosion and causes hardship to local people who depend on trees for a multitude of traditional purposes.
Long term effects of charcoal production, the report says, include the eventual depletion of reserves, energy deficits and high fuel prices. In many arid countries across Africa, therefore, the production and trade of especially charcoal is strictly regulated or even outlawed.
Recognising the negative impact on the environment, the Puntland administration has recently banned the export of charcoal to the Gulf States and the Somaliland administration is considering new regulations to put an end to charcoal production. This has however increased conflict between those who depend on charcoal to sustain their livelihoods and those who depend on range resources for other uses.
The new survey presented by the Somaliland government on charcoal production in Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao shows that the production in the three towns has increased for the following reasons: urban populations have grown, increasing the demand; charcoal production has become a common income option for rural communities; the price of coal has increased; and there are no effective controls in place to protect the environment from deforestation.
As a result, the government is now to consider whether to follow other African countries and prohibit the production altogether.
FSAU however advises the Somaliland government to start with solutions less harmful to the large groups living from charcoal production. Possible ideas to address the impact of the wood fuel and charcoal industry on the environment include improving the efficiency of charcoal production, for example by including fuel-wood trees in agro-forestry planning, the agency says.
The Somaliland authorities were further advised to improve efficiency of charcoal and fuel-wood use - for example through improved stoves and education - and to provide alternative sources of energy especially those that are competitive in price, such as kerosene, coal, biogas, solar gas and other natural gases.
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