Dar es Salaam. President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Tuesday agreed with the assessment by experts that Tanzania can continue using dirty cooking energy at its own peril, an appreciation that led her to launch a task force that would help the East African nation to transit to clean cooking energy within the coming ten years.
Experts describe dirty energy as energies that emit toxic substances and smoke, such as firewood and charcoal. Clean energy, on the other hand, refers to such categories of energy as kerosene, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and electricity.
The Head of State was a chief guest at a two-day national convention on clean cooking energy, the first ever to be organised in Tanzania, which took place at the Mwalimu Nyerere International Convention Centre (JNICC), in Dar es Salaam.
Taking place under the auspices of the Ministry of Energy, the conference commenced today, November 1, 2022, and will conclude on Wednesday.
“We can’t continue to shut our eyes on the negative consequences resulting from our continued reliance on dirty cooking energy,” President Samia declared. “There must be interventions aimed to reverse the course. The solution is a long-term one but actions must be taken now.”
A mere five per cent of the entire population of Tanzania is considered to have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies, with more than 96 per cent of the population – 61.7 million – relying on biomass, mostly firewood and charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking.
According to experts, this poses a serious threat to Tanzania as a country.
Emmanuel Muro is a renowned financial analyst who told delegates during a panel discussion that there is a direct connection between the use of dirty cooking energy in Dar es Salaam and the water woes the commercial capital now is experiencing.
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“Dar es Salaam uses 50 per cent of all charcoal produced in Tanzania,” Mr Muro explained.
“And the regions that Dar es Salaam is relying on for the charcoal are the same regions that its rivers source their water,” he added. “These are Pwani, Lindi, Morogoro, Iringa and Tanga.”
According to the expert, “it is just fair to say that these regions are the sources of life in Dar es Salaam.”
But the biggest threat could be the one shared by Dr Pauline Chale, a pulmonologist from the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH).
Speaking during a panel discussion, Dr Chale revealed that currently, MNH has a total of 10 million patients suffering from COPD, a type of disease that causes breathing-related problems caused by, among other factors, the use of dirty energy in cooking.
A total of 33,000 people die every year in Tanzania due to COPD-related diseases, she added.
“You have to remember that the smoke that dirty energy produces contains so many poisons which technically are known as particulate matter whose size is around 2.5 diameter which directly enters into our lungs and causes severe effects on our breathing system,” Dr Chale explained.
She also warned that the smoke contains poisons such as carbon dioxide gas which upon entering people’s bodies endanger people’s respiratory systems’ ability to fight off diseases.
A burden to the nation, families
“Dirty cooking energy is a health-related problem and a huge burden not just to the nation but also to our families,” she warned.
“This is because many of those admitted to hospitals suffering the diseases I explained tend to be unable to shoulder the costs needed to cover their treatment,” added Dr Chale. “The costs tend to be exceedingly high.”
It was against these startling observations that Prof Anna Tibaijuka, a long-time champion of clean energy in Tanzania, told the government that it cannot escape its role of helping Tanzanians adapt to clean energy.
Tibaijuka, who was the first African woman elected by the UN General Assembly as Under-Secretary-General of a United Nations programme, thinks the government’s role is to ensure both the accessibility of clean cooking energy and its affordability to the masses.
“Price stability is needed,” Prof Tibaijuka told the government. “It is important that EWURA and other important actors put in place a [price] regime that is predictable so that those poor households could adapt to clean cooking energy as fast as possible.”
EWURA stands for Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority, an autonomous multi-sectoral regulatory authority responsible for technical and economic regulation of the electricity, petroleum, natural gas and water sectors in Tanzania.
In her remarks during the inauguration of the conference, President Samia underscored the points that the experts laid out in their explanations, stressing the need for “a change in the mindset” which she thinks is key to the adaptability of clean energy uses.
Although she warned that addressing the issue is not a short-term process that can be accomplished in one or two years, President Samia announced a number of interventions that her government is going to take to address the problem.
She, for instance, directed a task force to be formed, which will be multi-sectoral and cross-cutting, which will come up with a clear vision and a strategy on how Tanzania can shift to clean cooking energy within the coming ten years.
“This task force should not just comprise of government officials but also representatives from the private sector as well as our development partners,” President Samia warned.
“Representation from those two sectors is significant because they participate in policy implementation and so it is important we get their inputs,” the Head of State clarified.
President Samia said also that the government will establish a dedicated fund for clean cooking energy in Tanzania, promising to set aside a budget for the fund in the coming financial year of 2023/24.
She also directed her Energy Minister January Makamba to make sure that all government institutions – like public schools and prisons – stop using dirty cooking energy and start shifting to clean cooking energy as soon as possible.
Hadija Said is The Chanzo’s journalist based in Dar es Salaam. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.