Just as I was starting to write this piece, a truck passed by and made its way into the premises of Alliance High School, Kigali. The cloud of dust it sent in my direction is enough for me to curse the seemingly unending dry season that has compelled me to clean my place on a more regular basis. That is not the issue; the issue is that the truck was carrying firewood for the school.
Alliance High School like many other schools in Rwanda is still dependent on firewood for its kitchen demands. This firewood is got after cutting trees down strictly for this purpose. The use of firewood in schools is a great burden to Rwanda’s environment in yet it’s not a sustainable energy use strategy.
Rwanda already suffers from a very high population density which essentially means that the competition for resources is nearly fatal. The scarce land is mainly used for settlement and agriculture with very little left for tree cover. The country’s population is growing at unsustainable rates and the government is trying to devise ways of stemming this growth.
At the same time, efforts to discourage wanton tree cutting are underway. More so a national tree planting day is set aside every year to ensure that the lost tree cover is gradually replaced.
When schools use firewood for cooking meals for their students then the pressure on the tree cover is much greater. This is because the student population in the country has been growing at alarming rates. From an educational viewpoint this is a good thing. But when you include the footprint it leaves on the environment then it becomes a big concern.
However, it appears that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. For sometime, the government has been encouraging schools to consider using biogas instead of cutting trees for firewood. Biogas is undoubtedly a more environmentally friendly strategy.
There are already reports that the government is going to finance the construction of biogas facilities in the three major schools in the Southern Province, to a tune of Rwf192m. (See: The New Times, August 23, 2010).
The three schools, St. Joseph Kabgayi, Ecole des Sciences Byimana and Notre Dame de Lourdes, will serve as pilot centres before the programme is rolled out to other schools across the country.
Over 50 people are currently undergoing training at Tumba College of Technology where they are getting equipped in specialised skills in the construction of biogas plants. Schools that will benefit from this programme are expected to contribute only 20 percent of the total cost of the construction.
Firewood is always one of the biggest costs in the administration of a school and yet it cannot be compromised since students have to eat food that is well prepared. However it comes at a huge cost to the environment and the community in general.
Embracing biogas is a forward looking strategy and therefore both government and private schools ought to embrace it in order to bring down their administration costs and help to preserve our fragile environment.
Similarly schools should also consider water harvesting during the rainy season by placing water tanks next to buildings to tap water running off the roof each time it rains. Underground water tanks should also be constructed to provide a consistent water supply during drier periods of the year.
The Ministry of Natural Resources together with the Ministry of Education could come up with a comprehensive programme and partner with the Private Sector to see that each school has tanks to store rainfall water and thus reduce the strain on community water sources and save money in the process. Schools could be availed with durable plastic tanks under a hire purchase scheme.
All schools ought to embrace sustainable and environmentally friendly uses of natural resources. Our environment will not only be saved but a good example of environmental discipline will be presented to the students.