The socioeconomic cost is enormous: exposure to indoor air pollution from cooking this way causes the premature deaths of an estimated 4.3 million people annually from lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as ill-health and the loss of productivity among millions more. It also entails a waste of productive time and energy, as traditional fuels usually have to be collected and transported to the home and cooking with biomass is slow. The local and global environment may also be degraded, as the demand for biomass encourages deforestation, the use of animal waste degrades soil quality and, to the extent that it is used unsustainably, burning biomass contributes to global warming and to local and regional air pollution.
Switching to LPG, which is particularly well-suited to domestic cooking, would improve greatly the quality of these people’s lives and bring far-reaching social, economic and environmental benefits.
Quantitative studies of the socioeconomic impact of household energy interventions in developing countries carried out in recent years suggest that the socioeconomic gains from switching to LPG are large.
In the most extensive study, carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006, in a scenario in which 50% of the people using solid fuels worldwide switch to using LPG, total economic benefits amount to roughly US$ 90 billion per year compared with net intervention costs of only US$ 13 billion (i.e. a benefit-cost ratio of 6.9). Time savings account for half of the gross economic benefits and health related productivity gains for most of the rest. In a pro-poor scenario, in which priority is given to households using the most polluting fuels, the economic benefits are even higher, at US$ 102 billion, with a net intervention cost of just US$ 15 billion. Other recent studies of national programmes demonstrate that the benefits always outweigh the costs, in most cases by a wide margin.
Over time, rising incomes will tend to boost the proportion of poor people using modern fuels such as LPG for cooking in developing countries. Yet that process will remain unacceptably slow unless governments intervene – in part because incomes are held back by the very fact that households do not have access to modern energy. The International Energy Agency projects that the number of people without access to clean cooking facilities in 2030 will be barely lower than in 2010 in a central scenario, which assumes no change in government policy. In its Energy for All Case, in which all households gain access to modern cooking fuels by 2030, more than 40% of the households currently lacking access that switch from solid fuels, or 1.1 billion people, choose LPG. Based on the WHO analysis, meeting this goal would be expected to generate over $60 billion per year in today’s money of on-going net benefits, the benefits outweighing the costs by a factor of seven to one. These benefits provide a strong justification for decisive policy action by governments to accelerate switching to LPG and other clean fuels and facilities.
Lower respiratory infections are the leading cause of death in low income countries causing 11% of all deaths (WHO 2012 and Wardlaw 2006). Moreover, in low income countries, more than half of lower respiratory infection deaths occur among children under the age of five. Death from lower respiratory infections is dramatically higher in low income countries where exposure to indoor air pollution is greatest. Multiple risk factors such as outdoor air pollution, smoking and malnutrition are associated with these three diseases but indoor air pollution is thought to cause about one-third of Acute Respiratory Infection cases.