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indoor air pollution

Access to quality information is crucial to tackle Peru’s environmental problems

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
Also available in: Español

 Franz Mahr / World BamkBy the early 2000s, Peru faced serious environmental problems. Air pollution in urban areas was so severe that it caused thousands of premature deaths every year. In fact, air quality in Lima was worse than in other large Latin American cities, such as Mexico City or Sao Paulo. Other environmental challenges that damaged people’s health included air pollution inside homes caused by the use of wood for cooking; insufficient access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; and exposure to lead, a highly toxic chemical. Together, these environmental problems caused 12 million cases of illnesses annually, dramatically affecting young children, the elderly, and poor people who couldn’t afford medical care. The World Bank estimated that these negative impacts had an economic cost equivalent to 2.8% of Peru’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2003.
 
One of the main reasons the Peruvian government wasn’t able to respond promptly to these serious environmental problems was the country didn’t have governmental organizations with a clear responsibility for environmental protection. Another important reason was the absence of a system of reliable environmental information to support the government’s decision-making process. For example, there was little awareness about the seriousness of air pollution, largely because most cities didn’t have a functional air quality monitoring network. Even in the few cities that did, the information was not widely disseminated. In the absence of such information, it was difficult to identify which environmental problems were most severe, and to develop actions and assign resources to solve them. In addition, lack of information limited the opportunities for the public—including the poor families and other vulnerable groups that suffered the most from pollution —to discuss their environmental concerns and agree on solutions with government officials.

Old fuel for a new future: the potential of wood energy

Paula Caballero's picture
A woman buying a clean cookstove in Tanzania. Klas Sander / World Bank

The use of wood energy – including firewood and charcoal – is largely considered an option of last resort. It evokes time-consuming wood collection, health hazards and small-scale fuel used by poor families in rural areas where there are no other energy alternatives.

And to a certain extent this picture is accurate. A study by the Alliance for Clean Cookstoves found that women in India spend the equivalent of two weeks every year collecting firewood, which they use to cook and heat their homes. Indoor air pollution caused by the smoke from burning firewood is known to lead to severe health problems: the WHO estimates 4.3 million deaths a year worldwide attributed to diseases associated with cooking and heating with solid fuels. Incomplete combustion creates short-lived climate pollutants, which also act as powerful agents of climate change.

But wood is a valuable source of energy for many of the 2.9 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean cooking facilities, including in major cities. It fuels many industries, from brickmaking and metal processing in the Congo Basin to steel and iron production in Brazil.  

In fact, the value of charcoal production in Africa was estimated at more than $8 billion in 2007, creating livelihoods for about seven million women and men, and catering to a rapidly growing urban demand. From this standpoint, wood energy makes up an enterprise of industrial scale. 

So, instead of disregarding wood energy as outdated, we must think of the economic, social and environmental benefits that would derive from modernizing its use. After all, wood energy is still one of the most widespread renewable fuels at our disposal. We already have the technological know-how to enhance the sustainability of wood energy value chains. Across the European Union’s 28 member states, wood and solid biofuels produced through “modern” methods accounted for nearly half of total primary energy from renewables in 2012.

Home is Where the Hearth Is

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Home is where the heart is. It’s also where the hearth is. And for the three billion people around the world who cook every day using traditional fuels, the hearth has a very dark side. Dirty, smoking cookstoves are responsible for killing over four million people a year. In fact, it is the fourth leading cause of death in the world. This was the message of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one of numerous global leaders to highlight these alarming facts at the Cookstoves Future Summit in New York City last week.

She and leaders of governments, companies and organizations like the World Bank Group were gathered to pledge record amounts of finance and country-level actions to tackle the insidious health and environmental challenges posed by the simple act of cooking.
 
Photo by Romana Manpreet and Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Growing up in India, I have always been conscious of the daily grind that women and girls in remote, rural areas go through just to prepare one meal. There’s the long, arduous and sometimes dangerous walk to get firewood, sticks or charcoal – whatever one can afford to find or buy. There’s the walk home, loaded down with that fuel. This can take up to five hours in rural areas – time that could be spent at school, work or building a small enterprise. And then of course, there’s the time spent breathing in smoke as they cook an often simple meal of bread, rice, lentils or vegetables. In India alone, more than one million deaths a year are attributed to traditional cooking practices - a shocking figure by any reckoning.