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ENVIRONMENT-BURUNDI: Urban Waste Becomes Urban Fuel

Jérôme Bigirimana

BUJUMBURA, Jun 1 2007 (IPS) - Several months ago, residents of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, were struggling with disposal of household waste. The Municipal Technical Services (Services techniques municipaux, SETEMU) weren’t able to deal with all the refuse – and health conditions in the city were deteriorating.

Fast forward to June 2007, and matters have taken a turn for the better – thanks to a waste management process imported from neighbouring Rwanda, and put into effect by the recently-created Association for Development and the Fight Against Poverty (Association pour le développement et la lutte contre la pauvreté, ADLP).

This organisation stepped forward after authorities decided to open the collection and treatment of household refuse to outside contractors, becoming the first privately-owned organisation to get involved in waste management in the city.

Alidi Hakizimana, a resident of the Nyakabiga community in the centre of Bujumbura – where the ADLP is most extensively involved – notes that health conditions “have clearly improved since the organisation took responsibility for waste” in the area.

But, ADLP doesn’t only collect waste – it also transforms it into fuel.

Refuse composed mainly of vegetable and fruit peels, and plastic goods, is gathered by the association; spread out to dry; then compacted in a mill to produce grey-coloured blocks, or briquettes.

The first of the blocks were produced in August last year, and have since received a firm endorsement from people who have started using them in place of charcoal.

Josée Ndayisenga, a housewife in Bujumbura, says the briquettes are easy to light and do not die out in the course of cooking. This is fuel “to recommend to the poor, as it is not expensive,” she notes.

According to ADLP, a household of 32 people that spends four dollars a day on wood charcoal would only spend two dollars if it started using fuel made from recovered waste. Figures from the 2006 Human Development Report, produced by the United Nations Development Programme, indicate that almost 55 percent of Burundians live on less than a dollar a day.

The initiative has also succeeded in creating employment for some of the poorest residents of Bujumbura, such as widows, the youth, and former combatants who fought in the civil strife that has plagued Burundi over recent years. About 80 people in the city now make a living from the collection, transport and recovery of waste.

In addition, replacing charcoal with the new briquettes holds out the promise of environmental benefits.

Pierre Barampanze, director of energy in the Ministry of Energy and Mines, notes that Burundi uses wood to meet 96.6 percent of its energy requirements. However, the process of transforming wood into the charcoal needed for cooking and the like is inefficient: at present, 10 kilogrammes of wood are required to produce just one kilogramme of charcoal.

This translates into loss of forest cover: Astère Bararwandika, director of forests, says that 2,160 hectares of forests are destroyed each year through the cutting down of trees for charcoal. Sustained use of the briquettes could help prevent deforestation, and the land degradation this tends to result in.

In the midst of enthusiasm for the multiple benefits of the ADLP waste processing strategy, SETEMU technical director Célestin Musavyi sounds a note of caution.

“The ADLP has only displaced the problem (of refuse),” he claims, “since it collects all the waste – but does not treat it all. So, where is the rest going to? This will result in new, uncontrolled waste.”

But, Bikorimana has a ready response for this concern. “Machines that will enable us to transform the rest of the waste into organic fertilizer will soon arrive. While waiting, we are sorting through it (the residual waste) and putting it to one side. All the waste will be recycled. It’s a question of means…the technique, we’re mastering it.”

He notes that the blocks have attracted the attention of the national police, amongst the biggest consumers of wood in this Central African nation.

Even the head of state has expressed interest.

Pierre Nkurunziza paid a visit to the association in March, buying a local cooker and several kilogrammes of the briquettes to try them out.

 
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