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Liquefied Petroleum Gas: A Healthier Way to Cook
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By Richenda Van Leeuwen

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that up to four million people die prematurely every year as a result of household air pollution (HAP) largely caused by cooking with solid fuels, principally wood and charcoal. Their use also causes significant forest loss. In some countries, collecting firewood in rural areas is not only an arduous daily task, but also dangerous, especially for refugee girls and women. To address, therefore, the urgent need for healthier and scalable solutions to be made available and adopted faster, a global consensus is now emerging to support the use of biofuels, LPG, electricity and natural gas ("BLEN" solutions) for cooking in developing countries.

Much progress has been made to highlight global energy access challenges in recent years. Successes include adoption in 2015 by UN Member States of 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This notably includes Goal 7, focused on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030 and SDG5, on gender equality. While many developing countries are making headway on access to electricity, on and off the grid, progress on clean cooking, however, is still lagging. As reported in the World Bank's 2017 "Global Tracking Framework," over three billion people around the world in 2014 still lacked access to clean cooking. In Africa, only 12 percent of the population had access to clean cooking fuels and technologies. Unfortunately, unless further effort is made, due to population growth, that number may still rise.

Many women across the developing world, who are largely still responsible for cooking, desire LPG, and it can be provided and adopted at a national scale. It is an environmentally benign fuel, helps to reduce deforestation and has a truly clean burning profile, avoiding the health danger of cooking-fire particulates that WHO deems detrimental to health. LPG also reduces cooking time and eliminates fuel gathering (when used exclusively), allowing women time for other activities.

Many countries have already adopted targets for transitioning significant portions of their populations to LPG during the next 10-15 years. India is in the middle of a huge national transition to provide LPG for cooking to an additional 150 million people within three years.

The Global LPG Partnership (GLPGP), a non-profit public-private partnership founded in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative projects that LPG could be successfully provided to as many as another billion of the world's poor by 2030. GLPGP works to support this transition with developing country governments, at their invitation, and with other relevant stakeholders. It provides expert technical support for the national policy development, planning, and investment needed for sustainable, safe, large-scale access to LPG for cooking.

GLPGP works across a number of priority countries in Africa and Asia, and has helped Cameroon create their first national LPG Master Plan, adopted in late 2016. This includes a target of increasing LPG use from 12 percent to 58 percent of the population by 2030. The planning effort revealed great potential for LPG expansion in rural areas, as well as in cities.

GLPGP also works at the community level in Cameroon. To help poorer women address the up-front purchase of the stove, gas cylinder, regulator and hose needed to cook using LPG, GLPGP and partners launched a pilot microfinance and education pilot program, "Bottled Gas for Better Life" in early 2017 that provides short term zero-interest loans to low income women. Results so far are encouraging. Timely repayments are being made, and more importantly, women in the pilot community, Batoke Village, are saying:

"You don't feel anything when you cook using gas. But when you cook with firewood, smoke enters our eyes. My children also cough because of the smoke from the firewood."

"It is clean to use gas to cook. It does not dirty your room, pot or kitchen. It also cooks faster because you are using two or three burners at the same time."

 

The University of Liverpool, UK, GLPGP's research partner, together with Cameroonian partners, are tracking, recording and reporting on health and other outcomes from this project. GLPGP plans a follow-on phase to support expansion into other areas of Cameroon, working with local microfinance institutions. It is also planning a new project to help Cameroonian women entrepreneurs establish and run community-level distribution enterprises to bring LPG to underserved areas, supporting increased engagement by women in what is now a 95 percent male-dominated supply chain in Cameroon.

 

LPG can provide an increasingly significant role in the suite of clean cooking solutions in support of SDG7. It is a win-win-win: providing a healthier way to cook, supporting gender equality in the home and the workplace, and preserving the environment.

 

Richenda is the Chair of International Institutions for the Global LPG Partnership and a global expert in renewable energy, energy access and gender development. A former non-profit CEO and private equity investor, she founded and led the UN Foundation's work on energy access and engagement with the UN's Sustainable Energy for All initiative from 2010-2016. In her "spare time" she is a senior technical advisor to the World Bank's Energy division (ESMAP) and serves as a U.S. Women's Clean Energy Ambassador in the C3E initiative.  Follow her on Twitter via @VanLeeuwenR

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