By Catherine Sasman
The Hakahana informal settlement sprawls over desolate-looking hills on the north-eastern rim of Windhoek. Here, thousands of tin shacks have sprung up, reaching further and further into the bush land that surrounds it. This settlement, and others around it, constitutes the growing rural-urban migration of people left impoverished for lack of cash work.
The living conditions are bare. The City of Windhoek has set up pre-paid water points for its residents, but the roads remain unpaved and badly kept. And there is no provision of electricity to the shacks.
Autogas Namibia, supplier of an environmentally friendly liquefied gas (LPG), and soft drink company, Kingsley, stepped forward to assist the residents in their energy needs by donating 40 gas cookers fuelled with gas to households of seven people, which is the average size of families in the area.
The value of the total donation amounted to N$16 000, said Managing Director of Autogas Namibia, Antonio Mendonca.
From a small survey, the company established that the residents use paraffin and firewood for cooking and other domestic uses. The firewood is mostly collected by women who, on average, walk five kilometers to collect the wood from the surrounding un-plotted land, and in the process strip the land down to dust.
In a study done for the World Bank on Namibia’s energy uses and needs two years ago, Operational Manager for Autogas, Tom Mukaiwa, found a dramatic depletion in woodland right around the Goreangab Dam in the 18 months that he monitored the area.
“If one goes around the dam one notices that there are mostly only tree stumps left. Deforestation of particularly the northern borders of Windhoek is becoming a big problem,” said Mukaiwa.
But residents of the squatter areas are pressed for energy, and have so far made use of what was available to them – firewood collected illegally, and paraffin that has severe health implications due to dangerous emissions.
“LPG discourages deforestation, and is a cleaner and safer energy source than paraffin,” suggests Mukaiwa.
LPG, which is a by-product of petroleum refinery, is fast becoming a cheaper and cleaner alternative to petrol and other energy sources. It has 90 percent less harmful emissions than paraffin and petrol.
“LPG is not only cost-effective, but it is clean and environmentally friendly. We therefore promote the use of gas as opposed to wood in areas where people use wood as a form of energy,” said Mukaiwa.
Re-fuelling the cookers, say the representatives of Autogas, will cost households an average of N$50 per month. This should work out cheaper than the wood/paraffin combination, they suggest.
When people do not collect wood themselves, says resident of Hakahana Selma Namugongo, they buy wood at a nearby bus stop.
“We suffered for a long time before we received the gas cookers,” says Namugongo. “We would normally pay up to N$100 for wood for two weeks, and added to that was the paraffin for which we would pay N$50 of N$60 for one litre.”
The wood at the bus stop, said wood vendor Elia Paulus, is collected from a farm on the way to Hosea Kutako International Airport.
“I have to ask those prices for wood because I have to pay the farmer for the wood and then I have to arrange transport to bring the wood here,” said Paulus. His profit per month, he claims, averages N$150.
But business has been quiet since residents received their gas cookers. “Some days I sit here and no-one comes to buy wood from me,” he says. “I hope business towards the end of the month will pick up.”
“The gas cooker has made a very big difference to our lives,” said another beneficiary, Ilena Hifenua, when New Era spoke to her a week after she received the cooker.
“I find that I can save more money. I have also developed a different way of cooking. It goes much faster than wood or paraffin.”
Added Gulinda Daniel: “The air in the shack is also now much cleaner, and there is no more smoke that burns your eyes and chest.”
Mother of a two-year-old daughter, Lucia Angula is equally pleased. “I felt the change the first time I used the gas cooker. I have a small child and have always been concerned that she might drink the paraffin when I’m not there. But now those concerns have dissipated.”
The residents are in agreement that the gas cooker is also safer because it can be turned down when not in use. This minimizes the threat of fire, an ever-present one in stacked up shacks.
LPG, according to Autogas, also burns longer than other gasses. A cooker has 16 hours of burning, says Clyde Mukaiwa, who sits in a small building erected as a gas depot on a hilltop overlooking the Hakahana settlement. The depot is right in the middle of the settlement. Formerly, residents had to walk long distances or take taxis to refuel their paraffin cookers.
“We have set up the depot here to be closer to the people. It is thus easier for them to fill up their gas cookers,” he says.
The cookers, says Mukaiwa, are made of robust material and are puncture proof. “You would therefore not have the kind of spillages experienced with paraffin,” he suggests. “The cooker was designed in South Africa for the poor. Our main aim with this project is to reduce poverty amongst our people and to take greater care of our environment,” says Mendonca.
The project will be monitored after three months to establish its impact on the lives of the residents as well as the environment.