“There is a distinct difference between the adoption of a new technology and its sustained use,” an expert says.
Air pollution is a killer. Millions of people around the world die of causes related to toxic air while millions of others end up suffering severe health problems from pulmonary diseases to miscarriages.
One way to escape from chronic air pollution is to stay indoors. But what happens when the air is just as toxic there, or even more so, than outside?
Indoor air pollution continues to blight the lives and health of millions of people around the planet. It is of especial concern in India, where fumes from indoor cooking permeate the abodes of the poor, affecting the health of countless young children in urban slums and poor villages across the country.
In 2016, India’s government launched a nationwide project to encourage locals to switch from solid fuels like dung, dry plants, wood and coal to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a much cleaner alternative. The project has been widely successful. Thanks to a variety of financial incentives, by now around 70 million women have switched to this cleaner fuel, mostly in poor villages across rural India.
Yet relatively low sales in LPG indicates that pollutive solid fuels remain widely in use even in households where residents are assumed to have switched to the gas, according to Indian researchers.
A typical family in India would require about 10 cylinders of the gas each year, yet consumption levels lag far behind that figure. This means that LPG has not been embraced as fully as had been assumed.
“Our work reaffirms that there is a distinct difference between the adoption of a new technology and its sustained use,” explains Abhishek Kar, a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who led the research.
A reason is that dung, dry vegetation and wood can often be had for free by the poor whereas the gas costs money. Further financial incentives, Kar says, could change that. He recommends seasonal vouchers during low cashflow periods for poor rural agricultural households, in addition to stepped-up educational campaigns about the dangers of indoor smoke.
“Increasing the adoption of LPG among rural, poor populations is a daunting task, which the government of India has admirably achieved,” says Shonali Pachauri, an energy expert. “Getting people to use LPG regularly is however a far more difficult task.”
More than two billion people still use solid fuels for cooking and heating, according to the World Health Organization. “Cooking and heating with solid fuels on open fires or traditional stoves results in high levels of indoor air pollution,” the WHO explains.
“Indoor smoke contains a range of health-damaging pollutants, such as small particles and carbon monoxide, and particulate pollution levels may be 20 times higher than accepted guideline values,” the United Nations agency adds.