Financing the Success of Health Focused Sustainable Development


Charcoal cookstove in a Haitian orphanage

Unrefined energy sources such as charcoal and wood are utilized in much of the underdeveloped world as the main source of energy for cooking and heating.  From collecting to burning this biomass for fuel, women and children bear the burden of health issues including pneumonia, asthma, COPD, burns, and cancer from open fires with poor ventilation.  2.7 billion people worldwide use biomass as their energy source for cooking and heating. According to studies by the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.45 million people died in 2008 from using biomass as an energy source accounting for more premature deaths than caused by malaria, vector-borne illness or tuberculosis during this time frame. The global population and those using biomass as their primary energy source is projected to increase well into 2030.

In many countries, more than 10% (often as much as 25%)of household income is required to heat a household. Death rates may increase by 18% in colder climates due to lack of adequate heat. 1.45 billon people worldwide do not have electricity. Across Asia, India, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin Americas, The Caribbean, and Europe, safe affordable energy sources have yet to be attained for everyone.

The human and economic burden of disease from the lack of affordable clean energy is a vital concern that has only recently been recognized as a global issue. Governments and private sectors dedicated to developing new energy sources have selectively viewed the environmental and financial impact of creating new policy or technological advancement for energy sources without considering the health implications of such innovations. Health assessment has not been a priority of the economic evaluation when developing goals for affordable sustainable energy models.

This past June 2012, the United Nations Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, that brought together national, private sector, academic and scientific communities declared that health impact assessment is an essential criterion for sustainable development. The United Nations (UN) has created a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) bureau to develop awareness, policy and tools to evaluate the health impact of energy policy and development at the population level.

While this declaration and focus is to be hailed as an essential achievement in recognizing our human condition, it is by no means time to clap our hands in success.  As the less than consistent accomplishments to date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set a decade ago for 2015 demonstrate, our global record of success to meet lofty goals for ending poverty has much to be desired and still to be accomplished.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki –moon declared that a global partnership is necessary for sustainable development and reaching all MDGs by 2015. Coming full circle, this partnership requires parallel policy by governments and the private sector not only to create energy sources that assess health impact before implementation, but allow them to be financially achievable and sustainable.

The Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) demonstrated that since 2008 health care spending in OECD countries has come to grinding halt.  How then will health assessment occur if healthcare in general is not being financed? Further, the economic security of affordable energy that is clean and sustainable, not only requires financing the initial investment but also financing the annual expense to maintain sustainability of the innovation.

The concept of healthy clean affordable and sustainable energy sources may appear overwhelming, but it is not an insurmountable goal. As an example, one solution for resolving the use of biomass as an energy source for cooking and heating is to support the development and use of clean cook stoves.  These are portable fuel-efficient appliances that as one study in India demonstrated would cost a household $10 annually to buy and then maintain.  On a global basis this amounts to 4.5 billion dollars annually.  Staggering number?  Not really.  The world spends more on malaria, and tuberculosis annually than this.  The reduction in healthcare spending on respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, the projected reduction in premature deaths, and reduction in disability adjusted life years, translates into tens of billions of dollars saved annually.

In the next several years, the World Health Organization and the United Nations must develop policies and partnerships that while commendably addressing the health impact of affordable energy and sustainable development will conjointly finance these healthy choices so that we may accomplish our Millennium Development Goals.


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2 Responses to “Financing the Success of Health Focused Sustainable Development”

  1. sbfphc Says:

    They say an aerial view of Hispaniola shows a green Dominican Republic and a brown Haiti because in the latter most trees have long ago been cut down and when it rains (like with the current Topical Storm Isaac) everything turns to mud. Charcoal is definitely not appropriate in such an environment.

    • Says:

      Yes. I have seen this aerial view myself. It looks like a wide dried up River bed demarcating Haiti from the Dominican Rebulic. And tonight after Issac has passed over I rember uthe faces of the people in Caanan. This is the mountain land given to people in the tent cities. The mountain is wide open deforested land of rock and dirt. 15,000 people are on this mountainside tonight with their canvas homes destroyed praying that they do not have mudslides. It is a vicious cycle for these people.

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