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close this bookEnergy as it relates to Poverty Alleviation and Environmental Protection (UNDP, 1998, 36 p.)
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
Open this folder and view contentsEnvironmental 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 documentInordinate expenditure on energy


Since energy plays a substantial role in the everyday lives of people, and poverty describes the condition of people who are denied the opportunities for a tolerable existence, it is not surprising that there are multiple links between energy, poverty and the environment. The production and use of energy have environmental consequences to which the poor are especially vulnerable. People living in poverty have benefited very little from conventional energy policies and their implementation. More than 2 billion people continue to cook using traditional fuels, while 1.5-2 billion people lack electricity. At the same time, it has become widely recognised that development depends on access to appropriate energy services.

People living in poverty are often disproportionately the victims of the environmental effects related to energy, even while they are usually perceived as being the cause of worsening environmental problems. They are placed in that role because they a) use inefficient and relatively more polluting energy carriers and systems than those who are better off; and b) are often forced to engage in hazardous or ecologically disruptive activities to obtain energy services. Most importantly, however, they lack the political power to help foster institutional change that could address their own poverty or effectively combat the environmental harm caused by the mainstream energy economy, for instance, power producers. Broadly, six features of the relationship of energy with poverty and environment can be distinguished.

Inefficient and environmentally harmful energy use

The fuels and devices available to people living in poverty are typically less efficient, more hazardous to users and more damaging to the environment than those enjoyed by the better-off. The use of traditional fuels has a negative impact on the health of household members, especially women and children, when burned indoors without either a proper stove to help control the generation of smoke or a chimney to vent the smoke outside (Smith, 1987). Similarly, kerosene used in household lamps is a poison and a major fire hazard. Lighting with kerosene can be twice as expensive and up to 19 times less efficient per lumen of output than fluorescent lights using electricity as the energy carrier (Reddy, 1994). Moreover, inefficient lighting services in the home and in public areas are directly related to poor safety and personal security.

In many countries there is evidence of a so-called 'energy ladder' that differentiates income levels in terms of associated patterns of energy usage (Hosier and Dowd, 1987). For example, wood, dung, and other biomass represent the lowest rung on the energy ladder for cooking, with charcoal, coal, and when available, kerosene, representing the next rungs up the ladder to the highest rungs, electricity and gas. The order of fuels on the energy ladder corresponds to their efficiency (i.e., the fraction of energy released from the carrier that is actually turned into an energy service by the end-use device) and their "cleanliness". For example, the cook stove efficiencies of firewood, kerosene and gas are roughly 15%, 50%, and 65%, respectively. Therefore, moving up the energy ladder results in declining emissions of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and particulates.

It is estimated that more than half of the world's households use wood, crop residues and untreated coal for their cooking needs. In most developing countries, the household sector is the largest single energy consumer and cooking constitutes the dominant energy need. In the poorest countries, such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Nepal, the household sector accounts for more than 90% of total energy consumption. The reliance on biomass fuels results in reduced agricultural productivity by depriving the soil of recycled nutrients that would have been available from tree, crop and animal residues and could be a cause of deforestation and desertification in some areas (Cecelski, 1987; Sarin, 1991).

Traditional cookstoves cause indoor concentrations of important pollutants, such as small particles less than 10 microns in diameter, known as PM10, carbon monoxide, benzene and formaldehyde, to be excessive compared to health-based standards or even to other common thermal applications. Such exposures are linked to acute respiratory infections, chronic obstructive lung diseases, low birth weights, lung cancer and eye problems, primarily, among women and children (Smith, 1990).

Solid fuels such as biomass are quite difficult to burn completely in simple household-sized stoves. Therefore, although biomass does not contain many non-combustible contaminants, the emissions of health-damaging pollutants in the form of incomplete combustion products are quite high per unit of energy. The use of solid fossil fuels for space and water heating in the home, or for cooking, is also widespread in many countries. Bituminous coal, or lignite for domestic use, is particularly problematic since it burns inefficiently and has high emissions of health-damaging air pollutants. Indeed, small-scale coal burning produces all the same pollutants as biomass, and in addition, sulfur and other toxic elements such as arsenic, fluoride, and lead. The use of unprocessed solid fuels, coal and biomass, in large furnaces and boilers achieves more complete combustion and thus lower pollution levels than in the case of household appliances.

Households that use coal and biomass generally have poor ventilation and because occupants are usually indoors when they use these fuels, they tend to be exposed to significant amounts of particulate pollution, as indicated in figure 2. Because a large portion of the population is exposed, the total indoor air pollution exposure is likely to be greater for the most important pollutants than from outdoor urban pollution in all the world's cities combined.

Health effects from biomass can be seen throughout the world. The largest direct impacts would seem to be respiratory infections in children (the most significant class of disease in the world) and chronic lung disease in nonsmoking women (Smith, 1987). Several other types of health problems are associated with this fuel cycle, including the impacts on women and children of gathering heavy loads of biomass in distant and sometimes dangerous areas. For example, an estimated 10,000 women fuelwood carriers in Addis Ababa, who supply one third of the wood fuel consumed in the city, suffer frequent falls, bone fractures, eye problems, headaches, rheumatism, anemia, chest, back and internal disorders, and miscarriages, from carrying loads that often approximate their own body weight and range from 40-10-50 kg. (Haile, 1991). The production of palm and other oils in women's informal sector enterprises is extremely arduous, requiring lifting and moving heavy containers of hot liquids and hence exposure to burns and smoke.

Figure 2 Approximate distribution of human exposure to particulate pollution.

Source: Smith (1993).

In addition, indirect health impacts from lack of fuel for proper cooking (malnutrition) and boiling water (diarrhea and parasites) may be significant, although difficult to document. The household use of solid fuels, therefore, is a useful indicator of potential environmental health hazards, although the degree of impact will depend on ventilation and other factors.

Today, widespread household use of coal is limited to a few countries; however, some countries are proposing to promote coal use as a substitute for dwindling supplies of biomass and to avoid increased demand for petroleum-based fuels, kerosene and gas. Given the high emissions associated with small-scale combustion of coal and the documented health effects due to household use of coal in China, South Africa, and elsewhere, this alternative should be carefully examined because of its adverse effects on health. In many countries of Europe in recent decades, the move away from household coal use was a primary means of controlling air pollution.

Household survey data reveal the connection between energy consumption patterns and poverty status. Figure 3 compares energy consumption and fuel sources of extremely low-income households (those in the lowest income quintile) with much wealthier households (those in the highest income quintile) in Pakistan. The energy carriers evaluated are biomass, kerosene, electricity, and gas; and the household activities examined are cooking and lighting. Note that many households could use multiple fuels for the same end-use (e.g., biomass and gas for cooking). The results in figure 3 suggest that people living in poverty are far more likely to use biomass rather than gas or electricity for cooking, and they are more inclined to use kerosene rather than electricity for lighting.

Figure 3 Household energy consumption and poverty status in Pakistan.

Source: Pakistan LSMS, 1991.

First-cost effect generates poverty-energy-environment lock-in

Since they cannot afford the initial costs of more efficient and cleaner devices and systems for cooking, lighting, etc., people living in poverty are often locked into a vicious cycle. They rely on patterns of energy use that contribute to depleting their resource base or they expose themselves to environmental harm and thereby deepening their misery. They deplete nearby fuelwood resources for cooking, and harm their habitat while further increasing their poverty.

Households make choices among the energy carrier options presumably on the basis of both the household's socio-economic characteristics and the attributes of the alternative energy carriers. Income is the main driver in choosing an energy carrier (Leach, 1992; Reddy and Reddy, 1994). From the standpoint of the consumer, the choice of energy carrier depends on whether or not it is affordable, accessible, convenient, easily controllable, clean, and efficient. Fuel costs have fixed and variable components. The division of costs into fixed, quasi-fixed, and variable components is relevant to household decisions about fuel choice. The outcome of these decisions depends upon the household's preparedness to forego present consumption for future benefits (i.e., upon the rate at which a household discounts future benefits). This discount rate is determined, in part, by the household's level of wealth and the liquidity of its assets. For example, households that apply high discount rates to fuel consumption decisions, either because of the high cost of diverting resources from other uses or of borrowing funds to cover up-front capital costs, will tend to prefer fuel carriers that involve lower up-front costs.

Compared to those who are better off, people living in poverty tend to attribute far more value to present benefits than to future ones. That is to say, they use much higher discount rates than do the rich when making decisions about energy carriers and think primarily in terms of the first cost, rather than the life-cycle cost (Reddy and Reddy, 1994). This attitude is quite judicious given their circumstances. They are among the least likely to receive conventional sources of credit from financial institutions and have highly uncertain income streams (Dasgupta, 1993).

For the poorest of the poor, small improvements in commercial energy services produce large welfare benefits

There is sufficient evidence that small improvements in the level of energy services available to people living in poverty could generate dramatic changes in their quality of life. Cross-country comparisons indicate a positive correlation between access to energy and electricity services and educational attainment and literacy among both the rural and urban poor. This may be because families lacking adequate energy supplies will tend to limit children's time spent on schoolwork and reading; in extreme cases, families may withdraw children, especially girls, from school to spend time on fuelwood and dung collection.

The Human Development Index (HDI) developed by UNDP is a composite measure of development based on indicators of longevity, knowledge and standard of living. The components used for calculating HDI are life expectancy, educational level (adult literacy and years of schooling), and per capita gross domestic product (adjusted for purchasing power parity). Figure 4 is based on data from 100 developed and developing countries and shows the relationship between HDI and per capita commercial energy consumption (Suarez, 1995). Note that there is a steep increase in HDI as per capita energy consumption increases in countries whose per capita energy consumption is less than about 1 ton of oil equivalent (i.e., the vast majority of developing countries). If one views this relationship in causal terms, then it could be argued that modest increases in per capita energy consumption for the poorest countries can lead to tremendous improvements the quality of life of people living in these countries. By contrast, further increases in energy consumption in countries that already have moderate to high levels of HDI will probably cause few, if any, increases in HDI.

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.

Urban air pollution

Fossi fuel use for transport has increased dramatically over the past three decades. There has been a 3% annual growth rate in the world vehicle fleet leading, in 1996, to some 800 million vehicles on the world's roads. This growth rate is faster than that of either the world population or economy. For example, in 1965 there were fewer than 60 vehicles per 1,000 people in the world; today there are more than 140.

Transportation is a major cause of air pollution in urban areas. The major air pollution concerns are carbon monoxide (CO) emissions, photochemical smog, toxic emissions, and particulate emissions. Given the high growth rates of vehicle fleets in many developing countries, vehicle-generated environmental problems have the potential to increase steadily over the next decade. Vehicles can have a significant effect on human exposure to pollutants, because their emissions are released close to the ground. For example, vehicles are the dominant source of CO emissions and are likely to contribute to high CO concentrations at street level. At moderate concentrations, CO impairs motor skills and at higher concentrations it significantly impairs the bloodstream's oxygen-carrying capacity. Emissions of benzene, a carcinogenic compound that makes up 1-to- 2% of gasoline by weight, is a major concern. It is given off as a vapor by hot engines and fuel tanks and is present in auto exhausts, partly from the combustion of other aromatic compounds in gasoline.

Particulate pollution, which has been linked to pulmonary diseases and lung cancer, has become the leading public health concern relating to urban air pollution. The relatively high particulate emission levels from diesel engines, the relatively large diesel shares in the motor vehicle populations, and the rapidly growing demand for urban transportation in developing countries indicates that this situation is likely to get much worse unless fundamental changes can be made in the transport system. Exposure to PM10 (particles under 10 microns in diameter) is associated with cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, and upper and lower respiratory tract infections.

Another particularly dangerous air pollutant is lead in gasoline, a highly toxic octane-boosting additive that affects mental development in children and causes kidney damage in both children and adults. Lead is still widely used in many parts of the world, although its use has been largely phased out in many countries both because of its toxicity and because its presence in gasoline makes it impossible to use catalytic converters for controlling tailpipe emissions. Developing countries tend to suffer more, not only because of less stringent environmental standards and weaker enforcement, but also because urbanisation trends are largest in these countries.

Additionally, vehicles contribute to the formation of secondary (photochemical) pollutants, such as ozone and other oxidising agents, which are becoming a widespread urban problem. At high concentrations, ozone impairs breathing capacity, causes eye irritation, and damages materials, vegetation, and crops. Photochemical smog is especially serious in Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, and Tokyo and is likely to become an ever more serious problem if current trends in urban transportation persist.

Considering six indicators of air quality: sulfur dioxide, solid particulate matter, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone, the air pollution situation in twenty megacities - sixteen of which are in developing countries - is such that 38% of the indicators register as either "serious problems" or "moderate to heavy pollution" (see figure 5). In fact, most developing country megacities have air pollution levels well above WHO guidelines, and the situation is getting worse. World-wide, air pollution (due to transportation as well as other forms of producing or using energy) is estimated to cause more than 500,000 premature deaths and millions of respiratory illnesses each year. In some countries, where cities are often cloaked in smog, the cost of local air pollution has been estimated at between 0.5% and 2.5% of GDP and as much as 5% of GDP in China (World Bank, 1997).

The poor may be exposed to higher levels of pollution due to transportation, even if they are not the primary users of transportation services, simply because they live or work in close proximity to street traffic. For instance, women working in the informal sector on Bangkok streets have high exposures to traffic-based lead emissions from gasoline fuels and have given birth to newborns with dangerously high blood lead levels as a result [REF].

Climate Change

In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a panel of experts assembled by the United Nations, concluded after detailed scientific reviews that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." (IPCC, 1996). This human influence on the climate is mainly due to the emissions of three greenhouse gases (GHG) - carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), of which CO2 is the most significant. Energy production and use is responsible for 80% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions and even in fairly optimistic scenarios, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels (in the form of CO2) are predicted to increase quite dramatically. Indeed, according to the most likely IPCC scenarios, they will double from a total of 6.5 Gigatons of carbon today to 13.8 Gigatons by 2050 (IPCC. 1992). Current patterns of land-use and energy have been deemed responsible for the net atmospheric increases in greenhouse gases, which are predicted to result in moderate to severe changes in regional and global temperature, precipitation, soil moisture and sea level.

Figure 5 Air Pollution in Megacities of the World

Source: UNEP/WHO, 1992

Changes in temperature and water availability will particularly affect the ecosystems of tropical forests and mountainous regions, reduce soil stability in some areas, increase the stress on fisheries and harm wetlands. In turn, there could be further reductions in natural water availability in areas already under stress. There are also likely to be adverse impacts on human health due to increased exposure to very hot weather and to severe weather events, increased risk of transmission of vector-borne and contagious diseases, and possible impairments in nutritional status. Some of the most catastrophic impacts are expected to be increased hurricane intensities in areas already prone to hurricane damage, which happen to fall across many parts of the developing world, including south and south-east Asia, the south Pacific and the Caribbean. In addition, rising sea-levels and increases in flooding, coastal erosion and storm frequency or intensity will put tens of millions of people at risk, especially in island states and low-lying countries such as the Maldives, Egypt and Bangladesh. People living in poverty are likely to be the worst affected by all these impacts, because they typically lack the resources required to make even marginal allowances (such as purchasing insurance) for increases in generalised risk to human health and habitat. Significantly, the impacts of the warming are likely to lead to higher economic costs for developing countries than for industrialised countries. Warming of 2-to-3 degrees Celsius by 2100 has been estimated to cost developing countries 5-to-9% of their GDP (IPCC, 1996).

Inordinate expenditure on energy

People living in poverty rely on energy sources that are outside the money economy whenever possible. At the same time they spend inordinate personal and family resources of time and effort to gather fuel and acquire their essential energy services. Most estimates of household expenditures on fuel are substantially understated for very low income households because people living in poverty devote a larger portion of their most important asset, their time, to the production of energy services. In general, people living in poverty expend more time and effort to obtain energy services that tend to be of lower quality than the energy services available to the rich. Poor women and children, in particular, bear the burden of having to carry water and firewood across long distances, while the better-off typically enjoy the convenience of having piped water and cooking gas delivered to their homes. Table 1 indicates that there is a striking difference between allocations of time and money by people living in poverty and by the wealthy. For example, very low-income households in Pakistan devote roughly 100 hours more per year to the collection of biomass than do the rich households. However, rich households spend about 30 times more money per year on fuel than do those living in poverty (table 1).

Poor women spend far more time and effort than men on energy-related activities. This gender bias is a further reflection of energy's largely non-monetised attributes among the poor, since much of women's work is characteristically unpaid work. Poor women are also disproportionately the victims of energy scarcity. The consequences are found in their poor nutritional status, poor health due to indoor air pollution, and even low literacy rates, which could be attributed to the fact that girls are more likely than boys to spend about 5 hours a day gathering fuelwood or drinking water (figure 6).

Table 1 Household Fuel Expenditure by Quintile in Pakistan

1st Quintile

5th Quintile







1 Money is 1991 Pakistani Rupees per year
2 Time is the average number of hours per year spent collecting wood or dung.
Source: (Pakistan, 1991)

Figure 6 Rural Transport Activities by Males and Females in Tanzania (a)

Figure 6 Rural Transport Activities by Males and Females in Tanzania (b)

Source: UNDP (1997).

The fact that the poor, and especially poor women, spend more time than others for energy services, has a powerful implication. The economic hardship endured by very low-income households is understated when their incomes or consumption expenditures are evaluated in terms of goods and services typically consumed by households with average incomes or consumption expenditures. In particular, most of women's work remains unpaid in non-marketed or subsistence activities and is thus unrecognised and undervalued. Overall, if unpaid activities were treated as market transactions at prevailing wages, it is estimated that global output would increase by US$16 trillion. This represents a 70% increase in the officially estimated global output of US$23 trillion. US$11 trillion of this increase would correspond to the non-monetised, "invisible" contribution of women (UNDP, 1996).

Moreover, people living in poverty are often more willing to pay for energy and energy-related services than is conventionally assumed, and typically do so for batteries, battery-charging, small quantities of kerosene, charcoal and, in some cases, fuelwood. A recent survey in Uganda discovered that there are more rural and peri-urban households with private access to electricity from car batteries than there are public sector grid-connected households in the whole country. They pay on average 20 times the urban tariff, and spend over US$10 a month on candles, lighting, kerosene, dry cell batteries and recharging car batteries-or US$320 million nationally every year (Tuntivate, 1997).