Study of energy and health in Africa focuses spotlight on charcoal and forest management

Berkeley and Boston -- A new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that promoting cleaner, more efficient technologies for producing charcoal in Africa can save millions of lives and have significant climate change and development benefits.

The African continent, as well as many developing nations in Asia and Latin America, is dependent on both 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. This is more wood per capita than is used in any other region in the world. However, 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, according to previous studies by the researchers.

The current study, published in the April 1 issue of the journal Science, concludes that by 2030, smoke from wood fires used for cooking will cause about 10 million premature deaths among women and children in Africa. By 2050, according to the report, smoke from cooking fires will release about 7 billion tons of carbon in the form of greenhouse gases to the environment. That's about 6 percent of the total expected greenhouse gases from the continent.

The researchers conclude that "helping African nations make the transition to clean charcoal without drastically increasing pollution and decimating tropical forests would be an excellent way to help achieve several of the United Nations' 'millennium development goals' at the same time. It also presents an opportunity for the developed world to invest in the African continent, as many promised at the January meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and as promoted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the recent G-8 summit."

"If the rapid urbanization continues

Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley

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