NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 13, 2007

The health of about 2 billion of the world's poor is being damaged because they lack access to clean energy, like electricity, and face exposure to smoke from open fires, according to Paul Wilkinson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

According to Wilkinson and colleagues, writing in the Lancet medical journal:

  • About 2.4 billion people worldwide were exposed to pollution from inefficient burning of solid fuels like wood, coal and dried cow dung.
  • This causes around 1.6 million premature deaths each year -- roughly double the level of deaths from air pollution in cities -- and many more non-fatal cases of respiratory diseases.
  • At the same time, around 1.6 billion people worldwide have no electricity.

Further, the world's richest populations use up to 20 times more energy per head than those from poor countries, posing a challenge to improve energy supply without pollution.  The poor are using much less energy but they are getting all the adverse effects, says Wilkinson.

According to Lancet editor Richard Horton, the research shows the current debate on climate change and new energy sources is unbalanced and too narrow.

"It neglects a far larger set of issues focused on energy and health," he says.

Source: Ben Hirschler, "Dirty energy threatens health of 2 billion: study," Reuters, September 13, 2007.

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