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close this bookEnergy as it relates to Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Protection (UNDP, 1998, 36 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPoverty and Environment Initiative Publications
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction
close this folderKey Energy Issues as They Relate to Poverty and Environment
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInefficient and environmentally harmful energy use
View the documentFirst-cost effect generates poverty-energy-environment lock-in
View the documentFor the poorest of the poor, small improvements in commercial energy services produce large welfare benefits
View the documentConventional energy paradigm contributes to perpetuation of poverty
close this folderEnvironmental problems such as urban air pollution and climate change affect people living in poverty more directly due to current patterns of energy usage
View the documentUrban air pollution
View the documentClimate Change
View the documentInordinate expenditure on energy
View the documentDesigning Sustainable Energy1 Policies for Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Protection
close this folderRemaining Challenges
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSubsidies for conventional fuels distort the markets
View the documentPricing does not reflect externalities
View the documentTheft and pilferage
View the documentOutmoded policy
View the documentLack of coordination in decision-making
View the documentLobbies supporting conventional energy
View the documentLack of information
View the documentLack of skills
View the documentLack of initiative
close this folderExamples of Sustainable Energy Strategies that Simultaneously Address Poverty and Environment Concerns
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentImproved cookstoves and modern fuels
View the documentRural electrification - decentralised options
View the documentImproved urban transportation
View the documentModernised biomass
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences

Conventional energy paradigm contributes to perpetuation of poverty

Conventional ideas about energy and development are often themselves responsible for fostering the energy-poverty nexus because they assume that simply increasing the supply of energy will lead to an improvement in the macro-economy, whose benefits will eventually reach the poor. Instead of attempting to improve the level of energy services available to people in poverty to enhance their quality of life, policymakers are locked into modes of governance that focus on increasing the supply of fuels or electricity. Such measures can actually cause further harm to the people living in poverty because of local pollution or large-scale displacement or by creating an institutional environment that excludes the poor from acquiring quality energy services. For instance, many developing country governments set import duties and taxes very high for energy technology and equipment, including those that are very energy efficient, but offer subsidies to conventional energy, often to appease particular industry or agricultural lobbies. Thus, many efficient energy technologies that could improve energy services and environmental quality (e.g., solar photovoltaic or solar water heating systems) without the need for large investments to improve the supply of energy (through grid extension, for instance) are placed out of reach to poorer households.


Figure 4 Relationship between per capita energy consumption and Human Development Index.

Note: Date for 100 developed and developing countries
Source: Suarez (1995). Note, each dot corresponds to a country

Apart from such direct negative impacts of many governments' energy policies, the adverse effects of existing patterns of energy use on nutrition, health and productivity are likely to ensure that even the benefits of economic growth would be absorbed only very slowly by people living in poverty. For instance, schooling will continue to promote earning capacity, but by less when biomass is the dominant energy carrier because of poor lighting, limited access to knowledge via radio and television and poor school attendance due to respiratory illness. In contrast, policies and programs that focus resolutely on creating opportunities for the people living in poverty to improve their energy services can enable poorer households to enjoy both short-term and self-reinforcing long-term improvements in their standard of living.

Large conventional power projects, especially coal and hydropower, are associated with numerous environmental problems, and often people living in poverty are the most affected. Coal projects typically displace thousands of people from open cast mining areas, ash disposal sites and mine drainage areas. Fly ash, oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, contamination of ground and surface water and depletion of water resources cause serious harm to the health and livelihood of local communities.

Hydroelectric power currently accounts for nearly 20% of the world's electricity output. The world-wide technically usable potential is estimated to be seven times greater than today's generation (Moreira and Poole, 1993). However, development of potential capacity entails a number of hazards. The process of generating hydropower does not produce wastes or other harmful by-products. At the same time, the accumulation of a large, almost stationary body of water sets in motion a train of events, particularly in tropical areas, that may enhance the spread of infection and disease, including filariasis and schistosomiasis. Shallow waters associated with the shores of reservoirs can provide suitable breeding places for mosquito vectors of malaria.

Dams also create new and favorable habitats for various kinds of vegetation, which in turn may render sizeable areas more attractive to disease vectors. In addition, dissolved minerals, silt, and organic matter brought by in-flowing rivers, may alter the aquatic ecosystems and possibly cause algae blooms, and foster growth of snails, midges, and mosquito larvae. Dams also pose accident risks when sited upstream from large populations. Important indirect health effects can be created in populations forced to leave their lands because of large hydropower development (IPCC, 1996). Hydropower projects displace many people from reservoir sites, reduce downstream agricultural productivity and submerge valuable agricultural and forest land in upstream areas, while causing sedimentation and water quality concerns and increasing the risk of malaria, encephalitis and other water-borne diseases. People living in poverty are often the worst affected by all these environmental problems, the most serious to their livelihoods often being their involuntary resettlement. For instance, the Three Gorges Project in China is expected to displace about 1.25 million people and several hydro projects in India, including the Tehri, Sardar Sarovar and Upper Krishna projects have each displaced more than about 100,000 people (World Bank, 1994).

In short, policies and programmes that directly address opportunities for people living in poverty to improve the level and quality of their energy services will allow the poor to enjoy both short-term and self-reinforcing long-term improvements in their standard of living and preservation of the environment. The improvements can be accomplished by making more efficient use of commercial and non-commercial energy and by shifting to higher quality energy carriers.

Poverty and Energy in Pura Village

Pura village in Kunigal taluk in the state of Karnataka, India, was one of the earliest villages to be studied exhaustively for its energy consumption patterns (Ravindranath et al., 1979; ASTRA, 1982; UNDP, 1995). In 1977, it had a population of 357 in 56 households who consumed about 3000kWh of electricity per day for the following activities:

1. agricultural operations (with ragi and rice as the main crops),

2. domestic activities (grazing livestock, cooking, gathering fuelwood, and fetching water for domestic use, particularly drinking),

3. lighting, and

4. industry (pottery, flour mill, and coffee shop).

The sources of energy for these activities were fuelwood, human beings, kerosene, bullocks, and electricity, in the order of energy derived. Energy derived from fuelwood dominated the source set (89%) and domestic activities outranked all the others (91%) in terms of energy used.

Several features of the patterns of energy consumption in Pura are significant (Batliwala, 1995):

5. What is conventionally referred to as commercial energy (i.e., kerosene and electricity in the case of Pura) accounted for a mere 3 per cent of the inanimate energy used in the village, with the remaining 97 per cent coming from fuelwood. Further, fuelwood must be viewed as a noncommercial source, since only about 4 per cent of the total fuelwood requirement of Pura was purchased as a commodity, with the rest gathered at zero private cost.

6. Animate sources (human beings and bullocks) only accounted for about 8 per cent of the total energy, but the real significance of this contribution is revealed by the fact that these animate sources represented 77 per cent of the energy used in Pura's agriculture. In fact, this percentage would have been much higher were it not for the operation of four electrical pumpsets in Pura, which accounted for 23 per cent of the total agricultural energy.

7. Virtually all of Pura's energy consumption came from traditional renewable sources - thus, agriculture was largely based on human beings and bullocks, and domestic cooking utilized 19 per cent of the human energy and 80 per cent of the total inanimate energy (entirely fuelwood).

8. This pattern of dependence on renewable resources, although environmentally sound, was achieved at an exorbitant price. Levels of agricultural productivity were low, and large amounts of human energy were spent on fuelwood gathering (on the average, about two to six hours spent travelling four to eight kilometres per day per family to collect about 10 kilograms fuelwood).

9. Fetching water for domestic consumption also utilized a great deal of human energy (an average of one to five hours travelling up to six kilometers per day per household) to achieve an extremely low per capita water consumption of 17 liters per day.

10. Of the human energy for domestic activities, 46 per cent was spent on grazing livestock (5 to 8 hours/day/household), a crucial source of supplementary household income.

11. Women provided the major part of human labour (53 per cent), especially in gathering fuel (42 per cent), fetching water (80 per cent), grazing livestock (15 per cent), and agriculture (44 per cent). Their labour contributions were vital to the survival of families, a point now well established in the global literature, but still neglected by planners and policy-makers.

12. Similarly, children contributed a crucial share of the labour for gathering fuelwood (25 per cent), fetching water (14 per cent), and grazing livestock (33 per cent). The critical importance of children's labour contributions in poor households has significant implications for population and education policies and programmes - but again, largely ignored.

13. Only 25 per cent of the houses in the "electrified" village of Pura had domestic connections for electric lighting; the remaining 75 per cent depended on kerosene lamps, and of these lamps, three quarters were open-wick type.

14. A very small amount of electricity -day), flowed into Pura, and even this was distributed in a highly inegalitarian way - 65 per cent going to the four irrigation pumpsets of three landowners, 28 per cent to illuminate 14 out of 56 houses, and the remaining 7 per cent to a single flour-mill owner.

Since the Pura study, many studies of rural energy consumption patterns have been conducted in developing countries (e.g., Barnett et al., 1982; Nkonoki and Sorenson, 1984; Smith, 1986). The specific numbers vary, depending upon region, agro-climatic zone, proximity to forests, availability of crop residues, prevalent cropping pattern, etc., but the broad features of Pura's energy consumption pattern outlined here were generally validated.