N'djamena — On 23 January in some Chadian cities day broke with the sound of citizens banging together pots and pans.
Prohibited by the authorities from demonstrating in the streets, Chadians banged their utensils from inside their homes to protest the government's ban on charcoal, which has people in a panic, burning roots, furniture and anything they can find in order to boil water and cook.
"Since we cannot go out into the streets, we hope everyone will join us in this - tap, tap, tap!" Larnem Marie, coordinator of the Chadian Fundamental Liberties Association, told IRIN.
The protest idea came from the Coalition of Parties for the Defence of the Constitution, an umbrella group of opposition political parties. Clanging was heard in the capital N'djamena and the protest was reportedly widely observed in Chad's third largest city, Sarh, in the south. Chadians planned to carry out the banging for three consecutive days.
When people tried to march in N'djamena earlier this month -- against the charcoal policy and the high cost of basic goods -- police and military dispersed the crowds, beating some demonstrators, a woman who was among the protesters told IRIN.
The charcoal ban - which government officials say is essential to fight desertification - has highlighted the need for alternative household fuels in the country, much of which is rocky desert. Residents and aid workers say just about the entire population uses charcoal as household fuel. A consumers' rights association is urging the government to promote renewable energy use.
But this group and others are calling for a suspension of the ban until alternatives can be made available.
For now Chadians are burning whatever they can find.
"I am using plants such as palm fruits," N'djamena resident Nangali Helene told IRIN on 22 January. "But they make us ill. They do not burn properly and they give off a horrid smoke and smell."
...We understand the need to protect the environment but we find it bizarre that the measures are so sudden and so brutal...
She said: "Last night we started burning the beams from the roof of our outhouse. Our children are suffering. We cannot even wash them with warm water in the morning. The government needs to know what things are like for us."
Currently the morning temperature in N'djamena averages around 17 degrees Celsius.
The Chadian Association for the Defence of Consumers' Rights, whose president Daouda Elhadj Adam met with the Prime Minister on 15 January, said in a memorandum to the head of government: "To fight reckless tree-cutting for charcoal, the government took a brutal and radical measure of prohibiting the sale of charcoal and wood as household fuel....Families do not know which way to turn to cook their meals."
The group recommends the government suspend its ban for at least six months during which time alternatives can be developed. It calls for a look at the supply and demand of propane as one option, as well as the promotion of energy-efficient cookers.
Many Chadians are not familiar with using propane and would have to learn to use it properly, N'djamena residents told IRIN. Fear is a factor, as several Chadians have been killed or injured in accidents involving gas cylinders.
The government should "promote renewable energy sources, with subsidies for solar energy," the consumers' rights group says in its memorandum.
Aid groups have distributed solar stoves or other energy-efficient cookers to refugees in eastern Chad, but N'djamena residents say such items are not readily available to Chadians.
Rights advocate Larnem said: "We understand the need to protect the environment but we find it bizarre that the measures are so sudden and so brutal."
A government official acknowledged in mid-January that ordering the ban without ensuring available options was "a gaffe", but to date the policy remains in place.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]