Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Health Impacts of Living in Energy Poverty

Photograph by Lynn Johnson, National Geographic
Many poor households in developing countries rely on traditional forms of energy to heat their homes, cook food, and provide light. These include the burning of coal, animal dung, wood, and agricultural residue.  At first glance, one might not think of this as a terrible health hazard… Campfires are common and no one seems to be developing lung cancer from being around them. However, there are many health issues that arise when using these methods indoors on a day to day basis. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.6 million people die from the effects of indoor air pollution every year. Smoke from cooking has nowhere to escape to, so the women and girls who are responsible for preparing meals inhale this toxic air. This smoke, known as black carbon travels deep into the lungs and respiratory system causing health problems such as emphysema and lung cancer.

Solutions varying from the use of solar power to biogas digesters have been posed to help alleviate this issue. The biogas digester takes less than a day to turn food scraps and other organic waste into clean, usable methane that can be used both for cooking and household electricity. At $400, this is not exactly feasible for more people living in these rural areas, but with some financial backing and donations the biogas digester could be a very simple solution to a growing health problem. Solar technology is another way that has been posed to reach the world’s energy poor. Though large solar panels covering entire roofs are expensive, solar power can be used effectively on a much smaller scale. Solar lamps with battery storage are available for just $30 and would provide plenty of light to a room at night. Check out this video of a girl who took the problem into her own hands… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uphtS41KcxY

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