Somaliland: Soaring charcoal prices hit families hard (IRIN)

| November 17, 2014

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Families in Somaliland have been hard hit by the steep rise in the price of charcoal, the main cooking fuel in the region.

Asha Ahmed is a mother of five. She says, “We used to buy two full sacks of charcoal per month, but due to the high price we buy one jaqaf daily.” A jaqaf, or tin, contains just two-and-a-half kilograms of cooking fuel.CharcoalTraders

Mrs. Ahmed’s family is one of the many affected by charcoal’s fivefold price increase over the last seven years. In 2007, a 25-kilogram sack sold for 18,000 Somaliland shillings [$2.76 U.S.]*. Now, families must pay 90,000 shillings [$13.84 U.S.].

The price has risen by 50 per cent in the past few months alone − in September, a sack cost only 60,000 shillings [$9.23 U.S.]. Charcoal accounts for about 65 per cent of the Ahmed household’s daily expenditures, so there is little money left for food.

Mrs. Ahmed lives in Hargeisa, which serves as the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland. She says: “We spend 9,000 shillings [$1.38] on charcoal out of our 14,000 shilling [$2.15] daily expenditure. The 5,000 shillings [76 U.S. cents] left is not enough … for the family [to eat] three meals per day.”

Omar Aden Yusuf is a researcher with the Academy for Peace and Development. He says: “During our research in 2007, we found one charcoal field in Odweyne [100 kilometres east of Hargeisa] where more than 3,000 trees were being burned down for charcoal daily.”

Mr. Yusuf adds: “The worst environmental degradation is in [the costal region of] Sanaag … because charcoal is trucked from there to [the port of] Bossaso, from where it is exported to the Gulf States.”

Ahmed Abdillahi is an environmental expert. He says, “Two reasons caused the increase in the price of charcoal: government fines on charcoal traders, and the lack of trees to burn for charcoal.”

To stop the deforestation, the government intends to stiffen the fines required by the 1998 environmental law. Currently, anyone caught cutting trees for charcoal is fined 2,500 shillings (38 US cents) per sack.

Shukri H. Ismail Bondare is Somaliland’s Minister for Environment and Pastoralist Development. He says: “The government is working to find alternatives to charcoal because it has already made a negative impact on the Somaliland environment, and our entire forests have now become deserts.”

Mr. Bondare says the government is planning to set up credit facilities to give more people access to kerosene stoves. He adds that the government has made liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene stoves tax-free to help solve the problem.

But charcoal is the preferred fuel. Ali Sh is a student at the University of Hargeisa. He says the people of Somaliland will not stop using charcoal stoves for cooking unless they are forced to seek an alternative. He adds, “They have been accustomed to using charcoal their whole life.”

Amina Omar agrees. The elderly mother is living in State House, a centre for displaced people in Hargeisa. She says, “We don’t know how to use kerosene and LPG; we only know how to use charcoal.”

Mr. Bondare says: “We are calling on the international community to help us to get alternative cooking energy, such as promoting kerosene, LPG, as well as solar energy.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Soaring charcoal prices hit livelihoods in Somaliland, go to:

*The original article used an exchange rate of 6,522 Somaliland shillings to 1 U.S. dollar.