By Mulengera Reporters
Addressing a cheerful gathering at Mulago-based Mwana Mugimu Grounds this Tuesday morning, Energy Minister Ruth Nankabirwa explained why it’s important for Uganda to leverage on increased electricity generation to get its citizens cook using electricity (as opposed to biomass) as a means to amplifying the fight against deforestation. Nankabirwa was here to preside over the commissioning ceremony for the pilot project aimed at accelerating the transition from use of biomass (firewood & charcoal) to electricity as primary source of energy for cooking and heating purposes both for homes and social institutions.
The background to the pilot project is that in November 2020, the UNDP Uganda office offered funding and called for proposals on how deforestation could be demonstrably tamed in Uganda. Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) is among those that responded to the call for proposals advert. They proposed working with social institutions like public hospitals, prisons and large academic institutions to popularize and incentivize the use of electricity for cooking and heating purposes as opposed to biomass (basically charcoal and firewood).
In their proposal, ERA suggested having pilot projects partnering with such social institutions and that’s how Mulago Hospital’s Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit came to be selected as a partner institution. According to Mulago Hospital Ag. Executive Director Rose Byanyima, the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit has the capacity to take care of or enroll 80 malnourished children at a time. These are always admitted there to undergo nutritional rehabilitation so as to restore their health after being exposed to vulnerabilities resulting from neglect by parents who fail or refuse to avail them with appropriate feeding.
Dr. Rose Byanyima told her guests during the Tuesday commissioning event that the unit daily admits or receives 6-10 severely malnourished children. These are brought in with severe complications resulting from malnutrition. Dr. Byanyima says 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. The UNDP Uganda Deputy Resident Representative Ms Sheila Ngatia says the ERA proposal was competitively selected and taken to be the best because of its potential to demonstrably diminish or reverse the deforestation trends in Uganda.
According to ERA Executive Director Eng Ziria Waako, the Shs324m (over $20,000) which UNDP contributed was used to reconstruct and modernize the kitchen for the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit at Mulago while fitting the same with the appropriate equipment, appliances and technology required to facilitate the conversion from use of biomass (firewood & charcoal) to electricity for cooking purposes. There was also another Shs94m that was contributed from the GoU coffers. The intervention, aimed at accelerating the clean cooking initiative, has since resulted into the staff cooking for the children enrolled at the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit being able to eliminate dependence on firewood and charcoal to 0% as everything will, going forward, have to be cooked using electricity which Nankabirwa and other officials say isn’t only cheaper and environment-saving but also shields staff around the kitchen area against health hazards that come with prolonged exposure to dangers that result from inhaling biomass during the cooking and heating processes.
It’s also expected that the experiences and lessons learnt from the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit’s piloting intervention will guide ERA, as the regulator, in its future tariff testing and modeling so as to enable the GoU impose electricity consumption prices that can incentivize more and more households to get away from biomass use. It’s also hoped that lessons learnt from the same piloting will enable ERA to appropriately regulate the importation and pricing of cooking equipment and appliances which households will require to sustainably cook while using electricity and not biomass anymore. The same experiences learned will help guide the GoU on the necessary tax reforms to undertake in order to increase citizens’ affordability of money to purchase equipment, gadgets and technologies required to sustainably cook using electricity.
Gratefully, ERA and the entire energy sector leadership, is determined to work towards ensuring that cooking using electricity becomes first choice and affordable for majority Ugandans as part of the country’s broader strategy to reverse deforestation in Uganda, a country where forest cover is annually diminishing at 4.1%. Ms Ngatia said that, because they are satisfied with the efficiency that ERA has manifested so far, UNDP will remain prepared to finance many other future GoU clean cooking initiatives aimed at discouraging reliance on biomass energy while reversing the deforestation of the country. She said they are looking forward to see the GoU supporting ERA to further scale up the clean cooking initiative to cover more social institutions beyond the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit and the Uganda Prisons Services whose similar partnership with ERA was unveiled and celebrated a few weeks ago.
Using the UNDP funding, the contractor (Hamlet Group) was able to install the appropriate cooking appliances for the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit’s kitchen. UMEME put in place the necessary electricity distribution infrastructure to ensure all goes well and according to plan. To illustrate her case against deforestation, partly resulting from over reliance on biomass for cooking, the UNDP boss made reference to GoU figures and statistics. That the country’s forest cover, which in 1990 stood at 24%, has since diminished to 8.9% as of December 2020. She also described as unacceptable the fact that Uganda currently loses 122,000 hectares worth of forest cover annually partly because of processes relating to the production of charcoal and firewood. “This is the highest rate of deforestation in Africa and we thank ERA for working towards the realization of the country’s deforestation targets set under NDP III.”
Under the NDP III, the GoU seeks to significantly reduce the demand for biomass which currently stands at 2.09m tones annually. “Deforestation also impacts on food security and it can also keep many diseases under check once we check on deforestation. All this makes this pilot project key which is why I stand here to commend ERA for this clean cooking initiative,” said the UNDP boss before commending the mother Energy Ministry for facilitating and endorsing the partnership between ERA and Mulago Hospital which resulted into the pilot project at the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit which Dr. Rose Byanyima wants to be expanded to cover the entire Mulago Hospital which she said has the burden of cooking for and rehabilitating another over 1,500 adults who are enrolled there with malnutrition-related complications. In a subsequent speech, Energy Minister Ruth Nankabirwa agreed with UNDP’s Ngatia that indeed ERA deserves more support to ensure Dr. Byanyima’s request to have the entire Mulago benefit from the clean cooking initiative is positively responded to.
Building on the strong case Eng Ziria Waako had made earlier explaining why Uganda must make the transition from biomass to cooking using electricity very seriously, ERA board chairperson Dr. Sarah Wasagali Kanaabi celebrated the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit intervention as being consistent with the UN-proclaimed SDG No. 7 which enjoins governments to work towards ensuring existence of affordable and sustainable energy for all. She thanked Eng Waako and the entire ERA team for regulating the sector in way that increases demand for electricity while conserving the environment at the same time. The ERA officials also used the commissioning event to assure Ugandans of increased access to reliable and affordable electricity so that no one ever regrets abandoning cooking using biomass.
Specifically, Eng Waako explained that the target of the ongoing clean cooking initiative is to ensure that in the next 3 years, Uganda grows the number of households that 100% use electricity as a primary source of cooking energy by 50,000 and social institutions like hospitals, prisons facilities and academic institutions by 500. Eng Waako said this target is achievable and possibly surpassable because of the appropriate tariff that is in place making cooking using electricity more affordable than ever before in the history of this country. She said ERA was already working towards helping distribution and transmission licensees to ensure all Ugandans continue having access to reliable, affordable and safe electricity to facilitate cooking in their homes.
Whereas private sector investments into the ERA-regulated electricity sub sector currently stands at Shs7trn ($2bn as of December 2021), Dr. Wasagali anticipated more such investments trickling in because of the ongoing amendment process to the Electricity Act which will result into private sector being permitted to go into hitherto restricted areas like electricity transmission which had always been monopolized by the GoU through UETCL. Dr. Wasagali further reflected on the 30 generation projects currently underway to assure the Ugandan public of continued reliable supply of electricity for cooking, heating and other purposes. She also reflected on the ERA five year Strategic Development Plan which makes growing the demand for and accelerating access to electricity top priority in all regulatory decisions and activities by the Authority.
Dr. Wasagali, whose Board was very passionate about the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit partnership with ERA, also thanked Prof John Ddumba Ssentamu (the only other ERA Board member present) for mobilizing the kitchen refrigerator donation that his employer Centenary Bank contributed to support the functionality of the newly converted kitchen at the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit. The ERA Board also donated cooking appliances to be used by the cooking staff manning the newly refurbished kitchen at Mulago’s Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit. Besides the contractor Hamlet Group, UMEME was also recognized for installing the conductors, metering units and transformers to facilitate the functionality of the newly converted kitchen at the Mwana Mugimu Nutritional Unit where biomass (charcoal and firewood) won’t be used to facilitate cooking anymore.
Ruth Nankabirwa, who was clearly in a hurry to avoid being late for a subsequent engagement at State House, was full of praises for ERA for amplifying the move against deforestation in such a way. She asserted that by prioritizing initiatives like the one on clean cooking, ERA was amplifying the implementation of not only NDP III and Vision 2040 but also the NRM manifesto. She explained that the three documents seek to increase the per capital consumption of electricity from the current 100kw/h to 500; reducing the proportion of the Ugandan population relying on biomass as their primary source for cooking energy from 88% to 50% in the next five years and increasing the proportion of Ugandans using electricity for cooking from the mere 15% to over 50% by 2026.
Nankabirwa said that, with determination and continued good leadership, all the above stated targets are achievable because, of the roughly 1,300MWs of electricity Uganda currently generates, a maximum of only 800MWs can ever be fully used during peak time. She said this is indicative that the increasing number of Ugandans using biomass for cooking and heating purposes can’t be blamed on absence or lack of adequate electricity being generated or supplied to would-be consumers. Nankabirwa said even when she clearly had such a busy schedule for the day, she could simply not afford staying away from the Mulago commissioning ceremony or even delegating because, being a tree planter herself, the issue of transitioning households and institutions from biomass to cooking using electricity is very dear to her heart. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us email@example.com).