Rwanda: Biogas in prisons saves millions of dollars

Image: James Mollison

It’s been 21 years since the devastating tragedy of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.  One of the biggest issues left from this event are the almost 100,000 prisoners waiting for their trials. Taking into consideration the huge number of prisoners, of course it took the Government of Rwanda (GoR) some years to find a just solution to reduce prison populations to a manageable number.  Housing large numbers of inmates has brought with it environmental problems related to waste disposal which has been released as raw sewage and has caused diseases.  In addition to the waste issue, trees and plants in the surrounding countryside have been used as cooking fuel for prisoners, leading to accelerating deforestation in large tracks of land around the prison.  To combat these environmental problems, the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) has started using biogas as a better solution to reduce this deforestation  and reduce the amount of released human waste.

Biogas as a source of clean energy

Rwanda has 13 prisons with around a total of 60,000 prisoners, who previously consumed around 10 tonnes of firewood a day which was equal to a yearly cost of around 1 billion Rwandan francs (USD 1.7 million), all this money just spent on buying firewood. After that the GoR restructured the prisons’ management and the new administration came up with this initiative as a long term solution to the environment and energy to cut costs on firewood.

RCS started building large biodigesters in all 13 prisons, and currently biogas is used for more than 60% of all cooking fuel. Staff and inmates at the prisons now do not complain about the polluted air.  In the past, when  waste containers were full, the prisons used to have no other option than to release it in the surrounding areas which caused the human waste to flow to rivers.  Biogas has helped to raise minimum hygiene standards at these prisons. To complete the project the prisons received funds from the GoR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

RCS won a global award

In October, Rwanda Correctional Services was given an award from the International Correctional and Prison Association (ICPA) to recognize its efforts in using biogas to combat environmental degradation. This was at the 17th Annual General Meeting and Conference, in Melbourne, Australia.

“This is the beginning of our achievements, our target is to use biogas 100% in our correctional institutions.”

Said Mary Gahonzire, the RCS assistant commissioner general. The GoR is investing a lot of money in renewable energy systems to reduce deforestation, as more than 90% of the population uses charcoal as the main fuel source for cooking. After realizing the success of biogas in prisons, the GoR introduced the National Domestic Biogas Program (NDBP) focusing on rural areas helping them to cook using clean energy.


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