Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Out of Mali, back in Kenya: From one incident to another

It is probably a question of whether being away from home is a more comfortable option that being back home for Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Moses Wetangula. After being stuck for days of uncertainty in Mali, where he had gone to attend an African Union meeting, following a military coup, he arrived back in Kenya on Sunday night.

Even before he has had time to take a breather, the parliament has requested an explanation from him on a report purportedly bearing a logo of UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office which seemed to suggest that an arrest warrant should be issued for President Mwai Kibaki for 2007-2008 post-election violence. MPs then had urged him to initiate severing relations with UK over its perceived interference in Kenya’s politics.

In response, Wetangula said, “I have absolutely no difficulty discussing the issue if a substantive Motion in accordance with the rules of the House is brought to this floor.” If he thought they had forgotten about this while he was away, he better find an answer a.s.a.p. Even the darkest night breaks into dawn, with the recent cabinet reshuffle, he does not have to go through that anymore.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Going green: What that means for Ugandan homes

With climate change becoming more of a reality each passing day than the abstract idea of yesteryear and the push to be environmentally conscious coming to fore in the way we live, the idea of going green will increasingly be reflected in the way we design our homes.

What is now known as green housing or green architecture or green construction started as a niche field in architectural designing but has steadily become mainstream as more elements of it were integrated in the buildings to make them environmentally friendly and efficient.

As the interior design and architecture website, homedit.com observes, “All around us is talk of going green, reducing carbon footprint and stopping pollution.

Human activities in the name of technological progress over the centuries have had the effect of damaging the ozone layer to such an irreparable extent, we simply have to sit up and take notice. Green building is now the new watchword for construction around the world.”

Generally, there is a wide variety to what would comprise this term, as such definition takes into account the several common aspects. According to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, “A Green Building can thus be defined as a high-performance building designed, built, operated and disposed of in a resource-efficient manner with the aim to minimise the overall (negative) impact on the built environment, human health and the natural environment.

Some examples of green building features are choice of site and orientation, efficient use of materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation.”

Though it has caught on in the US, Latin America, Europe, Australia and some parts of Asia like fast-developing China, in other parts of the world such as developing countries, it may seem a fairly long way off.

In fact in some American and European cities, there are rules and regulations as well as guidelines on how to build green and the features to take consideration.

In places like Uganda, the thinking may be that the fuss of reducing carbon footprints and adapting an eco-friendly lifestyle is one of those lofty Western ideals. But there are certain aspects of building and use that will most likely make both designers and home owners in Uganda seek to incorporate some elements of green housing.

As was noted in a 2010 special report on green technology in Time magazine: “Much of green architecture comes from design—making use of natural light and other features to cut down on energy waste; but smarter building materials can make a difference as well.”

One of the biggest concerns of any Ugandan home owner, especially in the capital city, municipalities and towns, would be the cost and use of energy. Since it is mostly in the urban areas where the energy sources is predominantly hydro-electric power, ways of reducing the cost and dependence on it as well as getting alternatives will be sought.

Energy efficiency
Green housing emphasises the conservation of energy and promotes energy efficiency. With the rates of electricity on the rise and the supply increasingly erratic, it is only prudent that the alternatives to fill the gap or ways to curb costs are considered.

A unit of electricity for domestic users is charged at almost Shs500 from Shs426 previously, the rationing of power supply varies anywhere from three hours to 12 hours, and petrol or diesel generators, apart from being noisy, have their own shortcomings; this will nudge people to contemplate eco-friendly forms of energy for their homes.

Already, the popularity of energy-saver bulbs for lighting is a useful pointer. It is also worth noting that a Ministry of Energy-World Bank initiative, a few years ago, helped deepen this when about 300,00/500,000 such bulbs are distributed house to house to replace the energy-consuming 80- and 100-watt bulbs that were being used.

Alternative power
Solar energy for lighting and for running certain home appliances is already being utilised in a number of homes. The prospect of wind energy is also equally attractive as an option to consider while modelling homes to make them more green.

While appearing on KFM’s Hard Talk, a radio talk show, a few months ago, the Minister of State for Energy, Simon D’Ujanga, revealed that there were government-commissioned studies that would be carried on the viability of wind energy.

In addition, there is ongoing research at the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC), based at Makerere University, on bio-energy that is more appropriate to our situation and would be of interest in applying it in homes, other kinds of buiding and industries, both small-scale and large-scale.

Water use
Besides conservation of energy, another aspect of green housing that would lead to its adoption in Uganda is the efficient water use. “The goal of creating a well-built green home is to end with a structurally sound, energy efficient, best air quality, more sustainable, water wise, inhabitant-healthy and practical home,” writes Steve Feller, an expert in green building, on Factoidz website.

With estimates showing that a water carrier (WC) toilet system alone can account for up to 30 per cent of the water used in home, any way of minimising these bills would be a welcome idea. It is common to find a pit latrine within the premises in many Uganda homes, and this in some way cuts down the use of water in the WC toilet, though the reason for this may be as a Plan B for those when there is no running water coming into the house.

Another area of a house that uses a lot of water is the kitchen. This is where techniques of rainwater harvesting, either via the roof or other means, and reuse of waste water from homes would make green housing catch on.

Appropriate technology and use of locally available materials to construct, if backed by some kind of institutionalised support, would take a sizeable chunk out of the cost of building homes in developing countries like Uganda. This will most likely encourage people to take advantage of green housing.

In a keynote address to a meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in Nairobi, Kenya, last month, Dr Joan Clos, UN-Habitat Executive Director, said “Together, UN-Habitat and UNEP are engaged in promoting low-carbon practices in the housing sector by means of capacity building and technical assistance to governments and housing institutions.”

With lesser upfront costs of construction and minimised running costs, green building definitely provides worthwhile benefits to home owner, and it is a matter of when not if green building will be the norm in Uganda.

Published in the Daily Monitor newspaper http://www.monitor.co.ug/Magazines/HomesandProperty/-/689858/1365358/-/view/printVersion/-/tc1xqa/-/index.html