Monday, June 13, 2011

Unregulated brick-making choking the environment

Joshua Zake in a letter to the Editor in Uganda's Monitor Newspaper, points at the challenge of brick-making a lucrative business in an economy that has a booming construction sector. To avert this, he mentions an existing technology that does not seem to be popularised yet. Other potential solutions like the 'bottle brick' also seem not to be taken up.

With a population of about 31 million Ugandans, there is very high demand for housing facilities. This demand will continue because Uganda’s population is exploding. Construction is a fast-growing industry with a growth rate 13 per cent, thus responding to the high demand for housing given a housing deficit of 550,000 units.

Most houses are made from traditional bricks. These are cured bricks made from clay or arable soil. Brick-making is a lucrative business and hence creates employment opportunities. Cured bricks in Uganda cost about Shs200 each.

The high requirements for firewood in curing bricks and the associated scarcity of firewood has pushed some communities in Wakiso, Mukono, Yumbe, Arua and other parts of Uganda to use fruit trees such as mangoes and jack fruits. In Lukwanga, Wakiso District, brick layers are using arable land thinking brick-making is more lucrative than farming on depleted soils. This will advance food insecurity considering that all the arable land will be mined for brick-making.

This is worrying because the process of curing bricks is associated with loss of trees and forest. This has negative impact on the climate since it has an effect on rainfall patterns, resulting in droughts, crop failures, and limited access to firewood for household energy use.

There are modern, sustainable technologies for brick-making though underutilized. The Interlocking Stabilized Soil Blocks machine is a good option. In Uganda, since 1991, Dr Moses Musaazi, an engineer at Makerere University, developed a technique which, by mixing soil and cement and then compressing the dampened mixture, produces an interlocking block that is stronger and uniformly shaped than a conventional traditional brick.

With this technology, 35 bricks are produced every 8 hours, saves 10 tonnes of trees because firing is not required.

Unfortunately, there are weak initiatives by the national and local governments to regulate and control brick-making. At the national level, the Draft National Soils Policy (2002), one of the key policy instruments for regulating brick-making, has been in offing for the last 16 years.

Furthermore, there is limited education of brick layers about modern technologies that are more sustainable with minimum impacts on the environment. Awareness creation about the implication of unregulated brick-making should be advanced while demonstrating and supporting sustainable technologies for brick-making in Uganda.

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