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

at it will - then the trend is going to be toward greater charcoal use in Africa. It's the most affordable source of household energy," said Robert Bailis, graduate student at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper. But whichever path Africa takes, he added, "we are saying there are multiple consequences, including preventable deaths and pollution emissions. Decisions made now or in the near future are going to have large effects on health and environmental outcomes in the distant future."

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.

The best situation in Africa would be to transition from biomass fuels to petroleum-based fossil fuels such as kerosene and liquid propane gas, the authors noted, which could prevent 1.3 to 3.7 million premature deaths, depending on the speed of transition. The authors argue, however, that current economic conditions and energy infrastructure in Africa make petroleum-based fossil fuels an unlikely option.

"If you switch everyone off the dirtiest fuels to burning clean fossil fuels, you get the biggest health benefit," acknowledged Daniel Kammen, the Class of 1935 Distinguished Chair of Energy at UC Berkeley and a co-author of the paper. "But the economic cost to most African nations - collectively the poorest region of the globe - of that switch is impossible."

Majid Ezzati, assistant professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the paper, added that "it's also a lot easier to disseminate charcoal in large scale than fossil fuels,
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Source:University of California - Berkeley


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