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CHAD: Panic, outcry at government charcoal ban

N'DJAMENA, 16 January 2009 (IRIN) - A government ban on charcoal in the Chadian capital N’djamena has created what one observer called “explosive” conditions as families desperately seek the means to cook.

“As we speak women and children are on the outskirts of N’djamena scavenging for dead branches, cow dung or the occasional scrap of charcoal,” Merlin Totinon Nguébétan of the UN Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT) in Chad, told IRIN from the capital. “People cannot cook.”

“Women giving birth cannot even find a bit of charcoal to heat water for washing,” Céline Narmadji, with the Association of Women for Development in Chad, told IRIN.

Unions and other civil society groups say the government failed to prepare the population or make alternative household fuels available when it halted all transport of charcoal and cooking wood into the capital in December in a move, officials said, to protect the environment.

Charcoal is the sole source of household fuel for about 99 percent of Chadians, N’djamena residents told IRIN.

With the government blocking all entry of charcoal into N’djamena, and reportedly confiscating any found in the city, charcoal has become nearly impossible to come by, aid workers and residents said. And when it is found, a bag that used to cost about 6,000 CFA francs (US12) is now sold, clandestinely, at about four times that.

Climate change

Government officials said the charcoal ban was part of an effort to halt tree-cutting for fuel, which they said was essential to fight desertification. The government has attempted to block tree-cutting in the past but has severely cracked down in recent weeks, aid workers and residents told IRIN.

“Chadians must find other ways to cook and forget about charcoal and wood as fuel,” Environment Minister Ali Souleyman Dabye recently told the media in N’djamena. “Cooking is of course a fundamental necessity for every household. On the other hand...with climate change every citizen must protect his environment.”

Officials said the ban includes only charcoal made from freshly-cut trees, not that made from dead wood lying about. But all wood and charcoal is being blocked from entering N’djamena, residents said.

''...Women giving birth cannot even find a bit of charcoal to heat water for washing...''
Amid panic and protests over the ban another government official said at a 14 January press conference that the government made a mistake in not preparing the public, but he announced no change. “It is a gaffe; to err is human,” said Nouradine Delwa Kassiré Coumakoye, president of the government’s Social, Economic and Cultural Council.

He called on Chadians to stay calm, saying: “The government can resolve this crisis and find a solution.”

The Chadian Prime Minister on 15 January met with the leader of a national consumers’ rights association, according to the government website.

“Crying out”

Residents and aid experts told IRIN the charcoal ban has complicated already dire living conditions in the city.

“All families in N’djamena are crying out,” Delphine Djiraibé Kemneloum, coordinator of the Monitoring Committee for Peace and Reconciliation, told IRIN.

UN-HABITAT's Nguébétan said: “This is quite a grave situation because Chadians have always used charcoal for cooking and for heating water." Many Chadians also make a living from selling charcoal.

“We all agree that desertification is a serious problem that Chad must address,” he said. “But the government must supplement its measures with alternatives for the population.”

The government has mentioned alternatives such as propane but “only abstractly,” Nguébétan said.

Residents said few people use propane in N’djamena, and it is scarce. People who can afford to are traveling across the border to Cameroon to buy gas.

Protest put down

Soldiers and police on 14 January dispersed crowds who gathered in the capital to protest the government’s action as well as the overall high cost of living, people in the capital told IRIN.

“They hit demonstrators, who were mostly women,” said the women’s association’s Narmadji, who was among the marchers.

“Until the government makes a change we will not give up,” she said. “Better to die swiftly and en masse than to continue dying slowly as we are now.” Then she added: “We are already dead.”

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Theme (s): Conflict, Environment, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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