Doubts raised over use of concrete electric poles stopping deforestation

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By Andrew Kaggwa, NECJOGHA

Kampala, Uganda – An expert in tree planting has cast doubt on whether the decision to use concrete poles instead of wooden ones would reduce on the destruction of forests.

The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) recently said that it has started phasing out wooden electricity poles in favour of concrete ones.

REA is a semi-autonomous body established by an Act of Parliament, whose core mandate is to foster Government’s rural electrification drive.

The agency has started piloting the use of concrete poles in east, north eastern and northern parts of the country.
The reason for REA to abandon the wooden poles though has nothing to do with saving forests but because of the poor quality of wooden poles they were being supplied which would rot in a few years causing power outages when they fall especially during the rainy season.

There was disagreement last year when officials of REA and the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company (UEDCL) appeared in the parliamentary Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (COSASE) over a report by the Auditor General John Muwanga that 40% of the poles on the network in Pader district, in Northern Uganda were rotten. REA officials accused UEDCL of procuring poor quality poles.

Doubts on saving forests

According to a Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) report titled ‘State of Uganda Forests 2016’, Uganda’s forest cover has shrunk from 24% of the total land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015. In terms of acreage a total of 3.05 million hectares were lost in a span of 25 years.

Though for REA the reason for moving from wooden to concrete poles is for quality reasons, there was excitement among environmentalists as it will reduce pressure on cutting down of trees.

“Actually they should have done this long ago. Other countries like Kenya are already using concrete poles,” Paul Mukasa a member of a conservation group called Greening Uganda said.

However, Biru Ninda of Bwetyaba Forest Contractors an expert in tree planting owns a eucalyptus forest in Namuyenje in Mukono District said the market for timber and wood is so big and the use for the electricity poles was only a small fraction.

“Most of our wood is used in construction and by farmers of passion fruits. In Masaka people use eucalyptus poles to roof their houses and it’s also spreading to Kampala,” Ninda said.

About the poor quality of the poles, Ninda said it’s because of the quick maturing verities of eucalyptus mainly imported from South Africa which reach the recommend size for electric poles when not strong enough.

Saidi Mugerwa a resident of Masaka District was worried whether the use of concrete poles would not also lead to another environmental disaster due to over mining of the sand to use to make the poles.

During a climate café organized by NECJOGHA in Mbarara in June, the Regional Manager of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) for South Western, Jeconious Musingwire NEMA is also fighting the planting of eucalyptus trees in wetlands because it’s an exotic tree which is forbidden from being planted in wetlands by Section 36 (f) of the National Environment Act 1995.

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