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Abstract

Richard Lord, www.rlordphoto.com

The reliance of almost half the world's population on inefficient and highly polluting solid fuels for household energy needs has far–reaching consequences for health, the environment, and economic development. Poor families in developing countries especially are more likely to use coal or biomass, such as wood, animal dung, and crop wastes, to fuel open fires or simple stoves. These fuels release health–damaging pollutants into the home, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, and other substances that can affect lungs and impair the immune response.

Adverse health effects of indoor air pollution include acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. Women and children, who may spend the most time at home near the fire, likely have the greatest risk of exposure. In addition, the task of collecting biomass fuels consumes time that women could spend more productively on child care or income–producing tasks.

Households with improving socioeconomic circumstances generally move up the energy ladder, using fuels and appliances that are increasingly efficient, clean, and expensive. The pace of progress is slow, however, and for the poorest people in Sub–Saharan Africa and South Asia, there is little prospect of change. For policy makers, the greatest challenge is not the development of new technologies but finding ways to increase access to existing, better systems through international awareness, collaborative action, education of consumers, and use of market–based interventions such as subsidies to fuel–efficient or pollution–reducing investments.