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Restoring the environment through renewable energy

A Malawi-based German energy consultant says renewable energy presents Malawi with the greatest opportunity to arrest rampant deforestation and increase the number of households using clean energy for cooking, powering appliances and lighting their houses at night.

Martina Kunert, who is a founder, trustee and partnership coordinator at Renew ‘N’ Able Malawi – a locally registered non-governmental organisation championing the scaling up of renewable energy among rural communities, says Malawi urgently requires practical and effective strategies to fight deforestation and ensure that the country remains liveable and food security does not depend on scarce cooking fuels

“Currently, Malawi’s deforestation rate is ranked fourth highest in the world, second in Africa and first in Sadc. This is alarming,” says Kunert, writing in her new column named Energy Justice published in The Daily Times’ The Business Times pullout of Wednesday, April 27, 2016.

She said with only about 300,000-out of Malawi estimated total 3 million households, are connected to Escom, electricity in Malawi remains a luxury, with many months of regular load shedding where even Escom customers switch to cooking on gas or charcoal most evenings, despite having electricity.

“But this is just unsustainable for the country because a bag of charcoal takes about 8 to 10 times its volume tree biomass to produce,” writes Kunert.

She observes that driving through Malawi from north to south quite frequently makes her wonder what the view shows to Malawians about the impact of human population density on nature.

“Fields host half-dead trees crippled or burnt so badly that they cannot sustain themselves any longer. Everyone tells me it hasn’t been like that forever. Even I, deeply entrenched in Malawi for just over seven years – out of which more than two were lived in rural communities, have witnessed with my own eyes the ongoing dramatic demise of the beautiful, rich natural environment in Malawi,” says Kunert.

“Flying in to Blantyre from the neighbouring countries in clear weather conditions, one can soon start counting trees by hand. I have seen pictures from just about 20 years ago – basically one young generation back – where the situation seemed to be much less dramatic,” she observes.

She says, however, scaling up of available affordable renewable energy technologies, especially among rural and urban poor communities, can go a long way in reducing deforestation and providing people with sustainable energy for their domestic use.

“With sustainable energy using solar and biogas, people will not have to invade national parks at the threat of their life to take firewood home for cooking. The already vulnerable families will not be made to suffer more from the omnipresent symptoms of climate change with fields completely unprotected from floods and erosion and sinking water levels due to missing tree roots,” says Kunert.

“Sustainable energy is one of the greatest opportunities for Malawi. Energy is important is almost all aspects of our life – from health to education, food security to household income, the national economy to climate change and the environment,” she said.

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