Firewood, tortillas and floods

???????????????????????????????It may sometimes be difficult to see the link between the tortillas served with your meals in Managua and the floods that frequently occur in the city, but it exists.

Tortillas in Managua are cooked over firewood from the higher zones of the city and neighbouring municipalities such as Tipitapa which is one of the most deforested in the country. Jaime Incer Barquero, president of Fundenic SOS and a former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, never tires of pointing out the contradiction to the people in the higher zones of Managua: “In the mornings they go down to the city with their carts full of firewood, and later they return with water.”[1] Incer points out that these people do not have any water because they are felling their trees for firewood which they sell in order to buy water. If they didn’t fell their trees, their water sources would still be viable and they could save themselves the journey.

According to the article in La Prensa[2], more than one of the wells of the Nicaraguan Company of Water and Sewage Systems (ENACAL) in the south of the city has dried up. Floods, droughts, a lack of water and even landslides are only some of the most dangerous collateral damage caused, at least in part, by the irrational use of firewood in Nicaragua. “Urbanisation has only increased the use of firewood for cooking. The Young Environmentalists Club believes that the firewood problem is a reflection of two things: the underdevelopment of the country and the difficulty in accessing alternative technologies.”[3]


[1] Jaime Incer Barquero cited in ‘La leña causa serios daños colaterales’, in La Prensa, Managua, 6 March 2011.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Nicaragua News (8 March 2011) ‘Firewood cooking has many consequences’, Nicaragua News Service, Managua.

Costa Rica’s New President Leads the Way with Fossil Fuel Ban

By Martin Mowforth

In May this year [2018], Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the centre-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC) was elected President of Costa Rica.

In his inauguration speech he declared that “Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first. We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”

Before becoming President, Alvarado was a journalist, writer and political scientist who had studied at the University of Costa Rica and later at the University of Sussex where he gained a Masters in Development Studies.

There is no doubt that Alvarado is keen to pursue and promote environmental initiatives, but the task of turning the country into what he calls “the world’s decarbonisation laboratory” will not be an easy one. As an article in ENCA 69 (March 2017, ‘Costa Rica’s environmental reputation’) pointed out, although the country produces well over 90% of its electrical energy without the use of fossil fuels, around 70% of that energy comes from hydro-electricity generated from large-scale dams, whose environmental credentials are increasingly questioned. Also the Costa Rican transport sector has generated growing use of fossil fuels as a result of the growth in car ownership and use in recent years, with so far few signs of a willingness to switch to electric vehicles.

It will be interesting to watch the statistics of Costa Rica’s fossil fuel use during the period of his presidency.

More on Costa Rica’s carbon neutral efforts, 2017

Key words: fossil fuels; alternative energy sources; Reventazón hydro-electricity dam; car ownership growth; pollution levels.

In early January this year [2017] it was widely reported that in 2016 Costa Rica had produced 98% of its electricity without fossil fuels. This is an achievement that few countries have managed, including those that are much larger and richer than Costa Rica, and it is of course an achievement of which Costa Ricans are rightly proud.

Two factors, however, serve to undermine this achievement. First, the reliance of the renewables sector on hydro-electricity generated from large-scale dams; and second the growing use of cars in the country which means that, despite its renewable electricity generation, its demand for oil continues to increase.

Lindsay Fendt in San José reported for The Guardian on 5th January this year[1] that despite the country’s recent investments in wind and geothermal plants, it still regularly produces more than 70% of its electricity each year from dams. Solar power, Fendt suggests, ”has been pushed aside due to political concerns that home-generated [solar] power would cut into the state electricity company’s profits.”

Moreover, she reports that although the Reventazón hydro-electric dam became fully operational last September and can power over half a million homes, it was heavily criticised by environmental groups for its location in a critical wildlife corridor. Its alteration of the flow regime of the Reventazón River also attracted protests.

Costa Rican transport can certainly not claim any pretensions to sustainability, with a massive recent growth in car ownership to a level of 287 cars per 1,000 population – a level above both the world and the Latin American averages. Furthermore, only 2% of the country’s vehicles are hybrids or electric cars that can use the renewable electricity grid. The resulting pollution levels are giving cause for concern, especially in the capital San José.

So, behind Costa Rica’s reputation for environmental sustainable development – a reputation well-deserved relative to most other countries – there remain issues relating to pollution levels which reflect questions over the decisions made by Costa Rican politicians.


[1]           www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/05/costa-rica-renewable-energy-oil-cars?