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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

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).