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Fuel Wood Is World’s Next Energy Crisis – OpEd

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There is a worldwide shortage of fuelwood and world’s poorest are the ones suffering from this energy crisis. The mostly widely used in the Third World, fuelwood is getting harder to find.

The trees are not only gone from where they used to be. They are also located very far from villages and women who bear the brunt in carrying loads of firewood daily, are suffering healthwise from this resource inadequacy.

The truth is while much rhetoric is being said about tree growing, firewood burning is faster than any of the world’s tree growing activities. In Sudan for instance, firewood is being burned 70 per cent faster than replacement trees are growing.

With the  climate refugees crossing country boundaries, there are no replanting activities going on in deforested nations. In Ethiopia, forests have been burned 150 per cent faster than the nations reforestation programmes. In short, village cooking fires are consuming the global forests and environmentalists have been late in realising this.

In the Philippines, about 25 per cent of the population depend on fuelwood for cooking which is contributory to the growing deforestation rate of 9,000 hectares each year. Yearly, thousands of tree are not only cut for firewood but for charcoal making in the rural areas. And in the raped forests, seldom are there reforestation activities.

Environment analysts say biomass including wood and other plant matter provides 14 per cent of the world’s primary energy. It is the principal fuel of more than two billion people, majority of them in subSaharan Africa and the Indian sub-continent. An estimated 80 per cent of the biomass energy is used in homes for cooking and heating.

Until recently most biomass consumers lived in rural areas. As populations have grown and the number of trees have diminished, searching for fuelwood has indeed become a demanding task. In some areas like Nepal, collecting firewood was a days task, every day. That constitutes enormous erosion of productivity in other kinds of work.

A United Nations Food Agricultural Organisation study in 2002 said that 1.3 billion of people will experience fuelwood shortage by 2005 and the number will rise to some 2.7 billion by 2025. What makes the situation even more difficult is that fuelwood problems have now spread to rural areas to cities.

Urban populations have exploded and migrants from the rural areas who pour to the cities daily comb alleys, garbage dumpsites and nearby wooded lands to get firewood to cook their meal as they cannot afford fuels such as kerosene or LPG.

Millions of migrants in many countries buy wood from vendors who rape the countryside for whatever remaining trees are there. Wood traders now search wood from communal woodlots and procure it free. The price of the wood which represents only the hauling labor and transport is marked-up exorbitantly as these are sold to city migrants.

After decades of woodland exploitation in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the shortage of firewood in rural areas have become so severe that villagers are compelled to use cow dung and dried leaves for cooking.

The fragile soils of the farmlands are thus denied essential nutrients and organic matter.

Dependence on wood for fuel is not just a challenge to economic sustainability but a threat to Third World health. In homes of low income families, where traditional wood stoves are widely used for cooking, adequate ventilation is often lacking. These stoves require large quantities of wood, are unable to retain heat for a long period and send much of the last fuel up in smoke. Inhaled by women as they cook, the smoke has been identified as a major cause of respiratory problems such as bronchitis and damaged eyesight.

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan

Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan wrote for the British Panos News and Features and GEMINI News Service, the Brunei Times, and US Environment News Service. In the Philippines, he wrote for DEPTHNews of the Press Foundation of Asia, Today, the Philippine Post, and Vera Files. A practicing environmentalist, he holds postgraduate degrees in environment resource management and development studies as a European Union (EU) Fellow at University College, Dublin, Ireland. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation of New York City. He now writes for Business Mirror and Eurasia Review.

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