Inside Rwandan camps where cooking has gone environment-friendly

By Maniraguha Ferdinand
On 28 February 2023 at 03:35

"This place would have been a desert if we hadn’t adopted other methods of cooking replacing firewood," says Vuganeza Andre, the Manager of Mahama Camp in Eastern Rwanda.

Since 2017, the Government of Rwanda in collaboration with relevant partners introduced the use of cooking gas at the camp, replacing charcoal and firewood.

Mahama is located at the border between Rwanda and Tanzania, at the banks of Akagera River, a tributary to Lake Victoria.

It is a place that knows little rainfall due to its landscape and scarcity of forests.

By 2022, 67% of 120 000 refugees accommodated in Rwanda were using cooking gas.

Mahama and Mugombwa, are the first refugee camps that adopted the use of gas since 2017, to reduce people’s dependency on firewood and charcoal, thus protecting environment.

According to Ministry of Emergency (MINEMA), every household in the camp used to spend Rwf36,000 (US$36) per month to cater for firewood or charcoal.

Concessa Mumararungu fled to Rwanda from Burundi and has been living in Mahama Camp since 2015. She now lives in the camp with her five children who are all students.

"There is a difference between how we used to live in 2015 and now. With cooking gas, we eat on time. It came as a solution to us," she says while cooking food for her children who have gone to school.

"Once they come back home, I will have finished cooking. They no longer get late, cooking gas helps a lot," she adds.

According to the Government of Rwanda, 380 hectares were down every week by 2017 in search of charcoal and firewood.

The target is to narrow down the number of those who rely on charcoal and firewood to 42% by 2024 from 67 % in 2017.

"It was difficult to get enough firewood to serve all camps in the country due to the high demand, as well as coping with the government’s policy to preserve our environment," says Karayenzi Kevin, the Mugombwa Camp Manager adding that gas reduced conflicts between refugees and local population.

The Government of Rwanda together with other partners like the United Nations High commission for refugees (UNCHR) cater for related cost so that refugees get cooking gas timely.

The gas allocated to one family, varies depending on the number of members.

Laetitita Kamahoro from Mahama Camp was returning from gas refilling station inside the camp, carrying her gas cylinder.

The amount of gas she had would last for 21 days.

"It has been three years since I started cooking using gas. It takes few minutes to have food ready. Whenever I want to cook, I do it instantly," she says.

"For example, it is raining today but I don’t have any worries. I am cooking inside which would not be the case if I were cooking with firewood" she added.

The effort to reduce dependency of charcoal and firewood in Rwandan refugee camps, went hand in hand with planting more trees around the camps.

Cyriaque Rugengamanzi, is a volunteer in charge of environment in Mahama camp.

His tasks include planting trees around the camp which used to be like a desert.

"The trees you see all around, we are the one who planted them. Before, we were prone to heavy winds which would destroy our homes. The situation has changed that we no longer experience heavy winds and we get rain timely," he narrated.

The Ministry of Emergency also noted the reduction of conflicts between refugees around the camps and the local population.

Pierre Niragira who has spent seven years in Mahama camp recalls the disputes that used to be between refugees and Kirehe residents, due to search of firewood.

"After we started using cooking gas, conflicts have reduced between refugees and surrounding local population. We would go outside the camp to fetch firewood and be in fight with residents. Such issue no longer exists," he recalls.

In Mahama alone, phasing out the use of firewood went hand in hand with planting more than 250 000 trees, with target of reaching more than 400,000 trees in next five years.

The use of firewood and charcoal are also linked to health problems especially, respiratory diseases.

In 2019, Ministry of Health in Rwanda announced that every year, more than three million Rwandans suffer from respiratory problems of which 13 per cent is caused by air pollution.

The Ministry said that such diseases are mostly caused by cooking with firewood, charcoal, petrol, fuel and ambient air pollution.

Rwanda accomodates more than 120,000 refugees from neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

Mahama camp has gone green after the introduction of cooking gas as an alternative for firewood and charcoal.
Every week, the contractor supplies gas to refugees whose cylinders are empty.
This lady from Mahama camp was carrying her gas cylinder after refilling.
One of refugees cooking with gas inside Mahama camp, waiting for her children to come from school.