Many of you will recall that ever since the advent of pre-paid electricity meters people started exploring alternatives like gas and firewood. This was and has always been meant to keep the electricity cost at bay. Fast forward to this year and a whole lot more factors are at play. The first one is incessant load shedding that has been perpetual for some months. Another layer to add to that is LPG gas which is now extremely expensive. Another recent factor is the hiking of electricity tariffs. Taking all those things into account leaves people with one alternative – firewood. Firewood has always been used as an alternative but the rate of its usage is now sky-high. In this article we look at some of the things happening as a result of load shedding and the recent electricity tariff hikes.

Harare As An Example

There are reports that have emerged citing that forests in the vicinity of Harare are experiencing serious deforestation. This is being caused by people chopping down trees for firewood that they either use or sell to Harare residents. It turns out that many people are making significant amounts of money from the selling of firewood. It’s ironic because the vending of firewood is now a very lucrative business for many people. That’s despite the damaging effects deforestation exerts on the environment.

Given the prevailing situation in the country it comes as no surprise since firewood is now a prized commodity. It’s being reported that the area spanning from Glen View 7 to Cresta Breeders i.e. along Beatrice Road has been seriously affected (all the trees that used to stand on that stretch have literally vanished). Some more areas that have been adversely affected are Goromonzi, Chitungwiza and Beatrice.

Note that this is just Harare as an example; this trend is now widespread. All across the country the unchecked chopping down of trees for firewood is in overdrive. I’ve lost count of the number of times I see people with tractors, lorries, pick-ups or pushcarts laden with firewood. It’s literally a Catch-22 situation because deforestation is bad yet at the same time firewood is a relatively cheaper alternative for the people.

LP Gas Now Expensive

For some time people have held onto gas an alternative to the scarcely available electricity. The story has now changed because gas is out of the reach of many. Consider the fact that gas costs approximately RTGS$15 per kg. Sparingly preparing light breakfast and lunch meals for 2 days would need about 1 kg of gas. If you add supper into the mix you’ll see that 1 kg might just be enough for day or slightly more than a day. So in this estimation, you would need not less than ZWL$7000 worth of gas to adequately cook all your meals for a month. Juxtapose that with the average salary of ZWL$7000 that most people are earning. It becomes crystal clear that gas is now extremely expensive.

Electricity Tariffs Were Recently Hiked

Electricity tariffs for domestic use were hiked from an average of RTGS$0.0986 to RTGS$0.27 per kWh. Most households would require on average 250kWh for the whole month. That translates to around RTGS$68 a month which is no joke for most households. So this further exacerbates the predicament because LP gas is already expensive coupled with electricity which is now expensive also.

People Resorting To Firewood

Earlier I mentioned that most people have started businesses of vending firewood. Most of them have been dire straits financially and consider this a relief for them. If you ask them they’ll acknowledge and concur that incessant cutting down of trees isn’t good for the environment. However, they really have no option because they need to generate income in order to fend for their families. The laws of business are simply at play here i.e. there’s a high demand for firewood which makes one being a supplier a lucrative venture.

Forestry Commission Expresses Concern

They have indicated that deforestation presents serious environmental problems. For instance, Harare’s main water source, Lake Chivero, is experiencing the negative effects of siltation. Siltation is resulting from loss of vegetative cover through deforestation thus leading to soil erosion. The siltation is emanating from Mukuvisi River, feeding into Manyame River ultimately getting into Lake Chivero. The Forestry Commission has warned people against the incessant cutting of trees since they have put in place patrols. They have cited that anyone caught will be arrested.

The sad thing about this whole issue is that it’s bound to continue. It shall be so for as long as there are still power cuts, income levels are low and the cost of goods and services remains high. I personally understand that deforestation isn’t good for the environment but people are in perplexing circumstances and have no option.