Zimbabwe’s forests vanishing as trees are used for firewood

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Zimbabwe’s forests have been vanishing gradually due the trees being used for firewood. This is because electricity is affected in the country as a result of drought which is happening for the second time in four years,

The latest power cuts mean that illegal loggers will only step up their game to feed the need for energy in low-income urban areas, causing the devastation of the country’s forests to become almost unstoppable.

At the last count almost 10 years ago, fuel wood’s share in the national energy mix hovered around 53 percent.

But these figures are now likely to have been overtaken by events given that Zimbabwe’s electricity situation has seldom, if at all, improved in the period since those statistics were compiled.

As a matter of fact, a succession of droughts have led to a decline in hydropower generation, which in good times accounts for over two thirds of Zimbabwe’s internal electricity production.

ZESA, which supplies nearly all of the country’s electricity, said at the beginning of May that its already inadequate national generation had collapsed by about a third to around 900 megawatts due to climate change-induced water shortages at its main hydroelectric power plant at Kariba, in the country’s northwest.

Since then, Zimbabwean households have endured as much as 10 hours of power cuts a day, forcing many to turn to fuel wood for cooking and heating.

Firewood is already a staple in many households, but those in towns and cities have seen a rapid increase in consumption in recent decades as a result of poverty and recurring blackouts.

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 4 tonnes of firewood per year, and rural families more than double that.

And according to the Forestry Commission operations manager, Stephen Zingwena, Zimbabwe needs between 9 and 11 million tonnes of firewood each year for domestic cooking and heating, and 1,4 million tonnes for tobacco curing. He was quoting a study carried out almost 30 years ago.

The effects of deforestation will be deeply felt. It is a vicious ecological cycle. As Zimbabwe’s forests dwindle, the decline is seen worsening the water scarcity that is fuelling the illegal logging trade. Models show deforestation could result in a decline in rainfall of more than 5 percent across Zimbabwe by 2050.