|Energy as it relates to Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Protection (UNDP, 1998, 36 p.)|
|Key Energy Issues as They Relate to Poverty and Environment|
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),
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.
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.