The African continent depends on wood and charcoal for cooking and heating homes. In 2000, nearly 470 million tons of wood were consumed in homes in sub-Saharan Africa in the form of firewood and charcoal, more wood per capita than any other region in the world. More than 1.6 million people, primarily women and children, die prematurely each year worldwide (400,000 in sub-Saharan Africa) from respiratory diseases caused by the pollution from such fires. The study finds that smoke from wood fires used for cooking will cause about 10 million premature deaths among women and children by 2030 in Africa and release about 7 billion tons of carbon in the form of greenhouse gases to the environment by 2050, about six percent of the total expected greenhouse gases from the continent.
The authors assessed multiple strategies to reduce mortality as well as greenhouse gas emissions from household fuel sources. They gathered a large database of current fuel use in African nations. Using this as a baseline, they defined multiple scenarios for future fuel use by varying the mix of wood, charcoal and petroleum-based fuels used in households and improving the sustainability of wood harvesting and charcoal production techniques.
Robert Bailis, graduate student at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and the lead author of the paper said, "If the rapid urbanization continues and all signs indicate that it will then the trend is going to be toward greater charcoal use in Africa. It's the most affordable source of household energy. But whichever path Africa takes, we are s
Contact: Kevin Myron
Harvard School of Public Health