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close this bookEnergy after Rio - Prospects and Challenges - Executive Summary (UNDP, 1997, 38 p.)
close this folder2. Energy and Major Global Issues
close this folder2.1 Energy and Social Issues
View the document2.1.1 Poverty
View the document2.1.2 Gender Disparity
View the document2.1.3 Population
View the document2.1.4 Undernutrition and Food

2.1.1 Poverty

people living in poverty pay a higher price per unit of energy services than do the rich

Poverty is indisputably among the world’s largest, most urgent and most fundamental issues. Despite this, poverty has received scant attention from an energy perspective. This neglect of the poverty-energy nexus is most surprising since energy is of vital importance to the satisfaction of basic needs, particularly nutrition and health.

A large proportion of humanity does not enjoy the benefits that modern energy sources and devices bring. About 2 billion people still cook using traditional fuels, and 1.5-2 billion people are without access to electricity.

Energy services constitute a sizeable share of total household expenditure in developing countries. People living in poverty pay a higher price per unit of energy services than do the rich. They also spend more time obtaining these energy services. The substitution of modern energy carriers and more efficient energy conversion devices would confer sizeable gains in purchasing power on poor urban households. Improvements in energy efficiency have considerable potential to reduce poverty in all of its key dimensions, and to facilitate development.

improvements in energy efficiency have considerable potential to reduce poverty

Patterns of energy consumption among people living in poverty tend to further worsen their misery. Firstly, because these people spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, they are less likely to accumulate the investments necessary to make use of less costly or higher quality energy sources. Secondly, the use of traditional fuels has a negative impact on the health of household members, especially when burned indoors without either a proper stove to help control the generation of smoke, or a chimney to vent the smoke outside.

Policies and programmes that directly address the creation of opportunities for people living in poverty to improve the level and quality of their energy services (by making more efficient use of commercial and non-commercial energy and by shifting to higher quality energy carriers) will allow the poor to enjoy both short-term and self-reinforcing long-term improvements in their standard of living. By contrast, the standard poverty-alleviation strategies - macro-economic growth, human capital investment, and redistribution - do not focus on the energy-poverty nexus in developing countries. If energy is left out of poverty elimination strategies, such as those promised by the Copenhagen Social Summit, these strategies are doomed to fail.

2.1.2 Gender Disparity

Conventional energy approaches virtually exclude women’s concerns from the current capital-intensive, monetised, expert-dominated energy sector. Consequently, economic growth has unfortunately been accompanied by (often severe) gender disparities. Globally, 70% of people living in poverty are women.

More than half of the world’s households cook daily with wood, crop residues and untreated coal. Home-based industries depend on biomass supplies. Women in developing countries spend long hours working in survival activities - cooking, fuelwood collection, water carrying and food processing. Women’s time in these survival tasks is, however, largely invisible in the statistics compiled on patterns of energy use. Women and children’s time spent on fuel and water collection represents a high social and economic cost to the family and society, and is directly related to the low level of energy services that are available to people living in poverty.

The nutritional status of women is often worsened because, for cultural reasons, they eat last and least and in addition they tend to expend more energy in work than men. Part of this greater labour is related to domestic chores such as gathering firewood, fetching drinking water, etc. These chores could be avoided, for example, by providing access to cooking fuel and/or efficient stoves and to water for domestic purposes.

Women’s key role in environment issues and sustainable development is an accepted fact. What is less well-known is that many of women’s environmental roles and concerns are closely linked to the use, supply and management of energy resources. Strengthening the role of energy in advancing sustainable development will require paying attention to the special role of women, and specific attention to women’s participation in energy activities. This can be achieved by recognising the specific relationships between women’s needs, roles and concerns, and the energy system.

2.1.3 Population

The conventional view is that population determines energy use as an external influence, i.e., exogenously. There is another view that the pattern of energy use influences population growth, through its effect on the desired number of births in a family and the relative benefits of fertility. The implication of this dimension of the energy-population nexus is that one important challenge for the energy system is to accelerate the demographic transition in which the population moves from an old balance of high mortality and high fertility to a new balance of low mortality and low fertility. This acceleration requires a dramatic reduction in fertility to stabilise the global population as quickly as possible, and at as low a level as possible.

women and children’s time spent in fuel and water collection represents a high social and economic cost

The reduction of fertility depends upon crucial developmental tasks such as increased life expectancy, improvement of the living environment (drinking water, sanitation, housing, etc.), education of women, diversion of children from household-survival tasks and employment to schooling, etc. Almost every one of these socio-economic preconditions for smaller family size and fertility decline depends upon energy-utilising technologies. But current patterns of energy use in developing countries do not reflect emphasis on the provision of safe and sufficient supplies of drinking water, the maintenance of a clean and healthy environment, the reduction of the drudgery of household chores traditionally performed by women, the relief from household-survival tasks carried out by children and the establishment of income-generating industries in rural areas.

Thus, current patterns of energy use do not emphasise the type of energy-utilising technologies necessary to satisfy the socio-economic preconditions for fertility decline.

2.1.4 Undernutrition and Food

About 800 million people, approximately 15% of the population in developing countries, are undernourished. The elimination of chronic undernutrition will require at least: (i) elimination of poverty through jobs creation (and thereby better distribution of income), and (ii) increased food production. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that a 35% increase of recent food production in developing countries is required by the year 2010. This could be achieved by increasing crop yields, by a greater intensity of cropping and perhaps also by bringing new land into agricultural production.

the pattern of energy use influences population growth

Gastro-intestinal parasites can undermine nutritional status by consuming, perhaps as much as 10-15% of the food intake, often termed the “leaky bucket” syndrome. This problem has to be tackled by health care and the provision of safe water and a clean living environment.

Many measures are necessary such as the raising of incomes through employment generation, the provision of a healthy environment, and programmes of supplementary nutrition for vulnerable groups. Several of these measures are strongly energy-related and if energy is to contribute to the solution of the problem of undernutrition, the energy components of these measures must be built into development strategies.