From: Erica Bulman, Associated Press
Published May 5, 2006 12:00 AM

Switching to Cleaner Fuels, Improved Stoves Could Save Millions of Lives

GENEVA — Cooking with wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels on traditional stoves each year kills 1.5 million people who breathe in the poisonous fumes, the U.N. health agency said in a report released Thursday.

On average, if 100 million more homes used cleaner fuels for cooking, there would be 282,000 fewer deaths from respiratory diseases every year, according to a 42-page World Health Organization report on household energy and health.

In addition, spreading the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), biogas and other cleaner household fuels could yield a sevenfold economic benefit in health and productivity gains worth US$105 billion (euro83.19 billion) a year.

"Making cleaner fuels and improved stoves available to millions of poor people in developing countries will reduce child mortality and improve women's health," said WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook. "In addition to the health gains, household energy programs can help lift families out of poverty and accelerate development."

Three billion people -- more than half the world's population -- cook with solid fuels on open fires or simple stoves inside their homes.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia are particularly affected, with 396,000 and 483,000 annual deaths respectively.

It would cost US$13 billion (euro10 billion) a year to give access to LPG to half the people currently using solid fuels. However, this would generate an economic benefit of US$91 billion (euro72 billion) annually due to reduced illness and deaths, less time spent collecting fuel and wood, and shorter cooking times, the report said.

LPG prices are affected by rising oil prices and could lead to higher costs but other cleaner fuels such as ethanol gels, plant oils or biogas would lead to the same benefits at better costs, the study said.

About 90 percent of the cost would be borne by families, who can install better ventilated and fuel-efficient stoves for as little as US$6 (euro4.75).

But donor investments are required for designing appropriate technologies and setting up local businesses, WHO said.

Getting half the people who use traditional stoves to use improved ones, would save US$34 billion (euro26.94 billion) a year in fuel.

Women and children can spend up to four hours a day in search of firewood. Using gas, more time would be available for children's schoolwork and leave mothers freer for childcare, agriculture or other income-generating activities as a way to break the vicious cycle of poverty, the agency said.

Source: Associated Press

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