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Reducing levels of poverty could help ease India’s energy demands

Image credit: TeshTesh [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]
Households with access to clean fuels, safe water, basic education and adequate food can use as little as half the energy of the national average in their country, according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters. The results of the study examining the link between energy consumption, inequalities and links to well-being in Nepal, Vietnam, and Zambia offers further insight into how sustainable pathways blueprints should be inclusive of poverty reduction, especially in countries with high rates such as India. 

Currently, pandemic-induced recessions are fuelling unemployment surges and spurring poverty levels across India according to the Pew Research Center who leveraged data from the World Bank. They report that the number of individuals with an income of US$2 per day or less in India has more than doubled from sixty million to 134 million in just a year due to COVID-19. 

Marta Baltruszewicz, co-author of the study and postgraduate researcher at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said that “in general, people are poor not because they have fewer dollars per day to spend than a certain poverty threshold, but because they cannot access goods and services that provide sanitation, education, or health. Often, these cannot be accessed even with increased incomes.”

Energy demands and poverty in rural areas 

Critically, the study recognised that in all three countries examined, households with high well-being showed much lower housing energy use, due to a transition from reliance on inefficient biomass-based traditional fuels to efficient modern fuels, such as gas and electricity. “The biggest factor is the switch from traditional cooking fuels, like firewood or charcoal, to more efficient (and less polluting) electricity and gas,” Baltruszewicz notes

Such findings are particularly relevant to India as a country, especially in rural areas. As Health Issues India previously reported, pollution is a pan-Indian problem with 75 percent of the 1.1 million pollution-related deaths from 2015 taking place in rural areas. 

For example, individuals living in rural India are still highly reliant on biomass as a fuel for cooking and heating, and are known to be more prone to the incidence of acute respiratory diseases than those in urban India. These were primarily caused by exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), a pollutant that can be derived from the burning of biomass. These illnesses ultimately lead to out-of-pocket expenditure for individuals, many of whom are already living with economic strains as shown underlined by the study published in Environmental Research Letters.

Collective services to aid deprivation 

To address these challenges and raise individuals out of poverty, the authors of the study suggest that there should be a focus on the role collective services can play, such as electricity, indoor sanitation, and public transport, in alleviating poverty. This in turn will then aid efforts to cut energy usage. 

The study states that “collective provisioning systems in the form of access to health centers, public transport, markets, and garbage disposal and characteristics linked to having solid shelter, access to sanitation, and minimum floor area are more important for the attainment of well-being than changes in income or total energy consumption.”

For India, poverty and energy demands are two challenges that will define one another, with efforts to address the climate problem inextricably tied up to the socio-economic situation of India’s 1.4 billion strong population, many of who live in vulnerable rural areas.

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