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."