Sunday, August 10, 2008

Charcoal and Deforestation

Although my primary focus in Malawi is nurses and the health system, I can’t help but notice other issues—like deforestation. Many of the hills that I have seen in southern Malawi have been stripped bare of trees to feed the need for charcoal.

Even the forest preserves around Mulanje Massif are starting to show the effects. A new road from Blantyre to Mulanje has opened up—which cut the trip to less than an hour by car. But that has also meant charcoal sellers can easily bike their way up to Blantyre from Mulanje. The photo above is of a charcoal seller who has wrapped his wares in plastic so as not to get in trouble with the forest rangers.

The economics of the issue are compelling. Charcoal is less expensive for cooking than electricity. Charcoal in the rural areas may cost 300 to 400 MK for one of these huge bags but 800 MK in town and that could last you a month. So what happens when all the trees are gone? When you’re trying to make it to the end of the day alive, tomorrow is a luxury.

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