By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen
Poor ventilation and use of kerosene increase risk of household air pollution
About 1.1 billion people worldwide live without access to electricity, according to the Energy Access Outlook 2017 report (p. 11) published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Analyses from WHO presented in the report Burning Opportunity from 2016 show that one third of households in off-grid, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) depend on kerosene for lighting (p. ix). The health hazards of using toxic kerosene for lighting are as widespread and comprehensive as the use of it.
With poor ventilation, the use of kerosene exposes people to a great risk of household air pollution (HAP). Burning kerosene creates fumes containing black carbon that enters the body causing eye disorders, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Annually WHO register 3.8 million premature deaths from diseases attributed to exposure of HAP, such as lung cancer and heart diseases. Overall the WHO perceives HAP as “the single most important environmental health risk factor worldwide” and the driver of a “global health emergency, ” in the report Burning Opportunity (p.ix) from 2016.
Lack of electricity is a threat to basic health treatment
Kerosene oil is liquid at room temperature, and is often sold in soda bottles or cans, where particularly children are “frequent victims of burns and poisonings from accidents involving kerosene stoves and lamps,” according to the WHO report Burning Opportunity p. 3. Living in drought areas with flammable shelters, the use of kerosene, or other open-flame lighting sources, can also lead to high risk of burns and fires.
Seeing dangerous bugs or reptiles and studying for a chemistry test in candlelight clarity is extremely difficult. The same goes for operating a health care centre or hospital; the need for light and access to electricity is vital for the most basic health treatment. WHO describes in the report Burning Opportunity from 2016 how lack of electricity makes it impossible to store lifesaving vaccines, and without light maternal delivery and emergency procedures can be life threatening (p. 77).
The nexus between gender, health and energy
As the primary procurer and user of unclean household energy sources, women and children spend a considerable amount of time in proximity to polluting energy sources, and are at a particular high risk of diseases from exposure to HAP, WHO concludes in the report Burning Opportunity page 9.
HAP is therefore regarded as the leading cause of stroke, lung cancer and heart diseases among women and children in off-grid communities. Of all risk factors related to human health, HAP is regarded as the single largest risk factor for women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to WHO (p. 3).
Access to a reliable and clean source of energy affects human health tremendously, the female population in particular. The SDG (UN Sustainable Development Goal) number three is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages by 2030. In order for this to happen, HAP must be eradicated. As described by WHO, ensuring and expanding the use and access to clean, renewable and sustainable energy sources “is key to achieving a range of global priorities, such as improving health, gender equality, equitable economic development and environmental protection” (p. VIII).
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