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Investment in cleaner household energy yields major health and economic benefit

A new report titled Fuel for Life: Household Energy and Health produced by the World Health Organisation, reports that approximately 485 000 people in the next ten years would need to access to cleaner fuels in order to halve by 2015 the population relying on solid fuels. This report demonstrates that investing in cleaner household fuels can yield a seven-fold economic benefit in health and productivity gains.
Cooking with wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels on open fires or simple stoves are a daily reality for more than half of the world's population. This leads to high levels of indoor air pollution, a major risk factor for pneumonia among children and chronic respiratory disease among adults. Globally, pneumonia remains the single most important child killer and is responsible for two million deaths a year.

Every year, indoor air pollution is responsible for 1.5 million deaths. Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia are particularly affected, with 396 000 and 483 000 annual deaths respectively. The ‘killer in the kitchen’ also disproportionately affects women and children. In 2002, cooking with solid fuels was responsible for nearly 800 000 deaths among children and more than 500 000 deaths among women.

The good news is that effective solutions are available. Liquefied petroleum gas, biogas and other cleaner fuels represent the healthiest alternative. Switching from a traditional stove to an improved stove substantially reduces indoor smoke. Improving the stoves available to millions of poor people in developing countries will reduce child mortality and improve women's health, in addition to the health gains, household energy programmes can help lift families out of poverty and accelerate development progress. On average, 100 million more homes using liquefied petroleum gas, biogas or modern fuels for cooking would lead to 473 million fewer women, children and men exposed to harmful indoor air pollution, and 282 thousand fewer deaths from respiratory diseases per year.

The economic case for adopting practical solutions on a large scale is just as strong as the humanitarian case. For as little as six dollars, families can install better ventilated and fuel efficient stoves. Making improved stoves available to half of those still burning biomass fuels and coal on traditional stoves would save USD 34 billion in fuel expenditure every year, and generate an economic return of USD 105 billion every year over a 10 year period.

The report also shows that halving the number of people worldwide cooking with solid fuels by 2015 would cost a total of USD 13 billion per year and would provide an economic benefit of USD 91 billion per year.

The majority of these costs are borne at the household level, which is also where the majority of the benefits occur. Nevertheless, donor investments are required upfront for designing appropriate technologies, setting up local businesses, and putting micro-credit systems in place. Developing energy infrastructure in this way would not only mean less illness and death but also less time spent ill, collecting fuel and cooking. With more time available, children would do better at school, while their mothers could engage in childcare, agriculture or other income-generating activities as a way to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

Additional information: Download the full report
News date: 04/05/2006

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