Engr. Betty Ugona, Coordinator GTHI and Executive Director, Storage, Nigerian Pipelines and Storage Company
Gas To Health Initiative (GTHI) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) advocating for the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for cooking as the most efficient energy that is cheaper, cleaner and adoptable.
The initiative started in 2013 with objectives to convert local food vendors to the use of LPG instead of alternative traditional uses.
Engineer Betty Ugona, Coordinator of GTHI also Executive Director, Nigerian Pipelines and Storage Company (NPSC) a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) appealed to the privileged (wealthy) in the society to support the idea.
The NGO has taken this initiative to public places like schools, prisons and hospitals and were enjoined to convert from the uses of dirty fuels to LPG.
Ogodo Douglas Felix, Editor, Energy Focus Report Magazine while in conversation with Engineer Ugona at the LPG West Africa 2019 Forum & Exhibition held recently in Lagos went into detailed discussion during which the following dialogues ensued.
How far have you created awareness on GTHI?
We started in the year 2013 and our target is to convert local food vendors popularly known as ‘mama puts’ the beans cake ‘akara’ fryers, the barbecue sellers among others to convert them to the use of LPG. When you look at the energy mix of Nigeria virtually about 60% of the population still use fire wood and its derivatives for cooking. How do we get these people converted to the use of LPG?
We try to sensitize them and their main concern have always been the amount of money to buy the starter pack which is the burner either single or double burner, cylinder, regulator and the hose. We adopted the principle of telecommunication companies in which the market of the elite was saturated by bringing down the cost of SIM cards. At present SIM card is about N100 or given out free. The target is to get people that will burn the air time hence they decided to give it free. So, if the SIM card is free the stewards and security guard of the elites will have access because they will communicate to them.
In the same vein, the well privileged people purchase SIM cards for their aged parents, probably for their employees in the offices on the premise that it is affordable. This method was used by the telecommunication companies which has been embraced by GTHI.
It is ingenious to make these LPG appliances available at free cost in order to encourage major users of firewood in Nigeria to convert to the use of gas and this will in turn increase LPG market consumption and invariably leads to increase in the market. Also, deforestation which appears to be a big business for some locals will be minimal.
The idea of giving out appliances free was actually adopted but publicity exercise was quite demanding and expensive. As a result, the marketers and plant owners were skeptical about the possibility of being patronized for the purchase of gas after all efforts have been geared toward creating awareness that converted people into the use of LPG gas.
Intensive campaign awareness and free offer of LPG appliances gave birth to GTHI. A dynamic body that rises to eradicate health complications resulting from alternatives to LPG.
GTHI as an NGO depends on neither the government nor plant owners to implement their plans.
Basically, GTHI aims at getting people who are passionate about the use of LPG and can sponsor or convert the local food vendors to LPG users.
Is the government supporting you in this initiative?
No way, they are not. We are not getting support from the government.
If you don’t get support from the government, how do you think GTHI will be effective?
We are making efforts to get support from the government but it has its own initiative including its agencies, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Petroleum. Our NGO has its own initiative and we are looking for those who are passionate. The few people that we have spoken to are giving nod to the initiative. Those who graduated from secondary schools and colleges are being approached to go back to their alma matter and project the idea. They are converting the kitchen of the schools where they have graduated into the use of LPG.
For instance, I have been able to convert the kitchen of my old secondary school into the use of LPG
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Abuja where my daughter was serving, has also benefited from this initiative because I have been able to convert their kitchen to the use of LPG. We have affiliation with schools, prisons, hospitals and public places to create awareness on the use of LPG.
The zealous and concerned masses are enjoined to support the campaign for LPG by empowering and educating food vendors in public places to embrace the benefit and safe usage of LPG. By so doing, they are giving back to the society as good patriots.
Are you getting international support from World Liquefied Petroleum Gas Association (WLPGA)?
WLPGA supports GTHI anytime it has outreach and it adopted GHTI as a non-fee-paying member which is a good gesture. We also have some companies that are supporting us once in a while whenever the need arises.
What is your advice on the use of LPG and how do you think that the awareness will be done in such a way that people will buy the idea just like it is with telecommunication?
The major factor that is lacking in LPG development in Nigeria is awareness and education. Publicity is expensive coupled with the fact that most operators believed they are not getting value from what they spent. So, industry players are withdrawing and not willing to get involved in the awareness campaign.
My advice is that the federal government should embarked on awareness campaign so as to educate people on advantages and disadvantages of using alternatives. Information should be disseminated appropriately to enable the locals’ figure out the health hazard accruing from the use of firewood for cooking.
Obviously, long use of alternatives to LPG result into inhalation of smoke with skin irritation and other health complications.
For instance, to further confirm the danger that the use of firewood posed to heath, was during an august visit of a physician from the United States. A foreign physician while on a visit to my village two years ago conducted eye tests for women to enable him prescribe glasses for them. After this examination, it was discovered that about 95% of these women were going blind. Thorough investigation on this observation revealed that most of these women were food vendors either by cooking or frying. Regular exposure of eyeballs to alternatives to LPG has resulted into eye defect which if not attended to leads to blindness.
Besides, the physician made a further survey on how long they have been on the trade, he also discovered that most women have spent about ten to fifteen years using firewood constantly and now they were almost going blind.
I advised the physician to sponsor the women by giving them LPG appliances at free cost. He complied and sponsored about 250 gas burners which were given to them. This implies that there is a stage one approaches in life in which the urge to give back to the society becomes paramount.
GTHI is calling on those who have the urge to give back to the society by providing LPG to people in order to save their lives especially their eyes.