India’s lower income section of the population is under greater threat of early death and ill health from cooking with solid fuels.
This concept of socioeconomic disparity in air-pollution-related effects is explored in a report published on Nature Sustainability written by Zoë Chafe and Sourangsu Chowdhury.
Air Pollution Threat Overlooked
The poorer sections of our population also suffer disproportionately from air pollution generated by fossil fuels.
Even as the world is gripped by the second year of the pandemic, a significant and overlooked threat to public health comes from exposure to ambient air.
Ambient air, which is the air that we breathe in outdoors, consists of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen.
The remaining 1% is made up of a combination of carbon, helium, methane, argon and hydrogen.
The Culprits: Ambient Air And Solid Fuel For Cooking
Breathing in ambient air is unsafe since it has dangerous levels of fine particulate matter.
This causes an estimated 4 million early deaths each year globally, a significant chunk of which are among children.
A quarter of these deaths occur in India alone.
Smoke from solid fuel use for cooking and other household activities is the biggest source of ambient air pollution in India.
Double Burden On Our Poor
The report sheds light on the dual burden of:
- Air pollution- Caused from smoke generated by burning wood, dung and other solid fuels
- Disproportionate exposure to ambient air pollution- Caused specifically by affluent urban households that have higher consumption emissions per capita
These two factors contribute to a 9-fold increase in likelihood of India’s poor dying from air pollution.
The reason the lower income strata suffer disproportionately from these environmental effects is because their income allows them to use only cheap solid fuel for cooking.
70% of the Indian population still depend on solid fuels for cooking, despite the government’s efforts to promote the use of LPG instead.
How To Tackle This
A way to combat the issue is by replacing all household solid fuel use with affordable and accessible cleaner energy, such as LPG or electricity, for cooking.
If this is implemented successfully, eight times more premature deaths can be prevented.
The situation in India is showing some signs of progress as rapid growth is being seen in air pollution research and estimates of the human toll from air pollution exposure.
Greater Research And Awareness The Way Ahead
A quantitative assessment of the pollution inequality or environmental injustice can be undertaken by analysing air pollution contributions by income level.
The originally published report has opened new avenues towards creating a better understanding of how our poor suffer disproportionately more from irresponsible solid fuel consumption by the higher income urban strata.