Monday, 18 June 2012

Fuelwood - Issues with usage, possiblities to reduce them in Nepal

Fuelwood is used by 80% of the 4.2 million  of the households in Nepal. However there are issues with this, similar to those seen in the Sahel. AT remains one of the best options, on a small scale, for Nepal but HEP, if FDI is provided, could go a long way to accelerating development in the region. Many of you many remembering doing this in the Energy module last year, but just incase, here is a basic overview of fuelwood usage in LDCs.........

In LEDC’s fuelwood is a very important source of energy as it is readily available and can provide energy for both cooking and heating. It is estimated that 40% of the global population rely on fuelwood as a source of energy. Honduras source 65% of their primary energy from fuelwood and in many African countries this percentage is substantially higher (often over 90%). The reason that this is such a popular choice is that it is cheap and relatively sustainable. Also the use of fuelwood as a source of energy does not require communities to be connected to a national grid. This means that for remote communities it is often there best source of energy.

Theoretically, fuelwood is a sustainable source of energy as trees can be replanted to replace those used. This will maintain the amount of trees in a region. Although it will take a while for the trees to fully grow, as long as it they are not used faster than they can be replaced, it is renewable. This means that, if afforestation schemes are implemented, that fuelwood can be a sustainable source of energy.

Fuelwood usage in the Sahel 

Fuelwood is a major source of energy in the Sahel region. However, an already dry region has been made drier by the deforestation that has taken place as the reduction in transpiration has reduced rainfall. The removal of trees has means that there are no longer any roots to bind the soil and, as the soil is exposed, it becomes more vulnerable to soil erosion. The combination of deforestation, over grazing and over cultivation has led to desertification. Deforestation has also allowed for salinisation to occur. As the soil is no longer shaded from the sun, the antecedent moisture is evaporated and, the hot temperatures draw the salts out of the soil. These salts are toxic to most plants and after this has happened it becomes increasingly likely that crops will fail.  In the Sahel they have experienced a lack of rainfall since the 1970’s and famines (the largest one occurring in the 1980’s) because the land is not very productive and, as the population increases, there are more and more people to feed.  
To help to remedy the problems created by deforestation many charities have set up tree planting schemes and have provided ‘magic stones’ which are used to build walls and trap the nutrients so that crops can be grown. Fuelwood is mainly used to generate heat which is then used for cooking. Appropriate technology has been used to make stoves more efficient so that they consume less fuelwood and so reduce communities’ dependency on fuelwood as a source of energy. Another method has been to encourage families to use solar cookers instead as this means that they can cook food without using any energy source apart from the sun.

Fuelwood usage in Nepal

Nepal is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas and so experiences high levels of precipitation and snow melt. Deforestation is a big problem in Nepal and only around 29% of the forest cover remains. This is due to the fact the Nepal sources 87% of its domestic energy from fuelwood. The forests of Nepal are home to many animals and 2.9% of them are classed as being endemic, which means that they don’t’ exist in any other country and deforestation has led to the destruction of their habitats. As well as the other obvious environmental impacts, deforestation has had some social impacts as well. For example, the women, who traditionally gather the wood, now have to spend hours at a time looking for wood and cows have to be taken further afield to find grazing land. In turn this has escalated the deforestation problem as grazing animals often eat the tree seedlings before they have a chance to grow and as demand for fuelwood increases, in relation to population growth, the problem is spreading. The impacts of deforestation are not only felt in Nepal though. Deforestation has reduced the interception store and so surface runoff has been increased. This means that the risk of flooding in Bangladesh has been increased. Also, as there are not roots to bind the soil or trees to trap sediment, the risk of landslides has been increased.   
To try and reduce the deforestation problem in Nepal, biogas run cookers are being installed in rural areas. Most people leaving in rural areas own at least one cow and the idea is that  a system is installed that collects the methane produced when livestock manure decomposes and then the gas collected is used to light stoves. This not only reduces dependency on fuelwood as a source of energy but also has health benefits as the smoke produced when either fuelwood or dried dung is burnt causes many respiratory problems. Even the waste left behind can be utilised as it works as a good, natural, fertiliser.  Another project has also been put in place which aims regenerate the forests by promoting the planting of trees that are grown in tree nurseries by local volunteers.

If you look back at some of my AS posts from the Energy module, there wil be some stuff on HEP that you may find helpful if you need to refresh you memory....

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