Power cuts fuel Zim’s il­le­gal log­ging busi­ness

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

Since early Oc­to­ber, Zim­bab­wean house­holds have en­dured up to 18 hours of power cuts a day, forc­ing many to turn to wood for cook­ing and heat­ing.

With wood’s share in the na­tional en­ergy mix at around 53 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to data from power util­ity Zesa (Zim­babwe Elec­tri­cal Sup­ply Author­ity), Zim­babwe’s forests have al­ready been dwin­dling rapidly.

But as il­le­gal log­gers step up their ac­tiv­ity to feed the need for en­ergy, say ex­perts, the dev­as­ta­tion of the na­tion’s forests has be­come al­most un­stop­pable.

Zesa, which sup­plies nearly all of the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity, said at the start of Oc­to­ber that its al­ready in­ad­e­quate na­tional gen­er­a­tion had col­lapsed 17 per­cent to 984MW due to cli­mate change-in­duced wa­ter short­ages at its main hy­dro­elec­tric power plant at Kariba, in the coun­try’s north­west.

Stud­ies by the Univer­sity of Zim­babwe show that in a coun­try where 61 per­cent of cit­i­zens are not con­nected to the elec­tric­ity grid, ur­ban house­holds al­ready con­sume one to four tons of wood per year, and ru­ral fam­i­lies more than dou­ble that.

And with wors­en­ing power out­ages to come those num­bers are likely to surge, ex­perts say.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN’s Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Zim­babwe lost 327 000ha of plantation forests and nat­u­ral wood­land on av­er­age each year be­tween 1990 and 2010. Now there are only 15.6 mil­lion hectares re­main­ing.

At the 6 100ha Lake Chivero Na­tional Park, on the out­skirts of Harare, the dam­age il­le­gal log­gers have done is ev­i­dent.

In a vast area where decades-old trees once stood there are now only count­less fresh stumps. “We es­ti­mate that 36ha have been cut down this year alone,” said Vi­o­let Makoto, spokes­woman for the Forestry Com­mis­sion.

A se­nior em­ployee at Kamba Car­a­van Park in Lake Chivero Na­tional Park, who asked to be iden­ti­fied only as Ben, has seen the log­gers at work. He said they use a va­ri­ety of tools, from hand axes to chain­saws, to mow the for­est down.

Ben sees be­tween two and four 6-ton trucks loaded with the logs leave the for­est nearly ev­ery night. “As soon as the work­ers at the na­tional park knock off around 6pm, the poach­ers im­me­di­ately move in know­ing there is no one to ap­pre­hend them,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Oliver Wales Smith of En­vi­ron­ment Africa, a lo­cal non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, the log­ging syn­di­cates work with cor­rupt po­lice and of­fi­cials to ex­ploit leg­isla­tive loop­holes that al­low them to pass off il­lic­itly ob­tained wood as le­git­i­mate.

The gov­ern­ment passed a law in 2012 re­strict­ing the use, trade and move­ment of fire­wood, but with fines that rarely ex­ceed $20 the leg­is­la­tion is prov­ing a poor de­ter­rent, ex­perts said.

Forestry Com­mis­sion spokes­woman Makoto con­ceded power cuts were mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to keep de­for­esta­tion un­der con­trol.

“It has be­come more and more dif­fi­cult to en­force leg­is­la­tion as the sit­u­a­tion be­comes more about liveli­hoods.”

And in a vi­cious eco­log­i­cal cy­cle, the shrink­ing of Zim­babwe’s forests is ex­pected to ex­ac­er­bate the wa­ter short­ages fu­elling the il­le­gal log­ging trade.

The En­ergy Min­istry said the coun­try is not ex­pected to pro­duce enough non-wood power and be­come fully en­ergy se­cure un­til 2020, when a num­ber of planned power projects is due to go on­line.

“All we can do is en­cour­age peo­ple,” said Makoto. “And to plant more trees.” – Thom­son Reuters Foundation

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