New WHO report: Household Air Pollution is Driving a Global Health Emergency

Household air pollution is the single most important environmental health risk factor worldwide

A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) says despite more than a decade of work to reduce domestic air pollution sources, progress toward universal access to clean cooking fuels remains far too slow. Almost 3.1 billion people still rely on polluting, inefficient energy systems such as biomass, coal or kerosene to meet their daily cooking needs – a number virtually unchanged over the past decade. And too many households still depend on polluting fuels and devices for heating and lighting – particularly kerosene. This global report provides new data on the still-pervasive use of polluting fuels for home cooking, lighting and heating, as well as an in-depth look at the impacts on women and children.

For instance, almost half of all African households across the 25 countries surveyed rely primarily upon highly-polluting kerosene lamps, while about 30% of households surveyed in South-East Asia use kerosene lights. Conversely, solar powered lights still have very low uptake (1% or less) in many countries.

Women and girls bear the largest health burden not only from domestic pollution sources, but often also from related fuel-gathering tasks. For instance, available survey data from 13 countries showed that girls in sub-Saharan African homes with polluting cookstoves spend about 18 hours weekly collecting fuel or water, while boys spend 15 hours. In homes mainly using cleaner stoves and fuels, girls spend only 5 hours weekly collecting fuel or water, and boys just 2 hours.

According to the WHO, "By cleaning up household energy, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve human health, slow down climate change and free hundreds of millions of people – especially women and children – from the drudgery of daily fuel collection. Clean household energy can drive progress on Sustainable Development Goals for energy, health, gender equality, sustainable urban environments, and climate action. Increased investments, targeted interventions and evidence-based policies can ignite this "burning opportunity" to bring about change".

The global community must redouble its efforts to expand and accelerate access to clean energy. In so doing, we have an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate an enormous health burden that currently weighs down nearly half the world
WHO report: Burning Opportunity
Executive Summary

The report says that prospects have never been brighter for cleaning up air in and around the home, throughout the world.

"However, success is not guaranteed. The new analyses stemming from the WHO Household energy database demonstrate that progress towards the goal of universal access remains far too slow: more than three billion people still rely on polluting, inefficient energy systems to meet their daily cooking needs. And too many depend on polluting fuels and devices for heating and lighting".

It comes to the "inescapable" conclusion that "the global community must redouble its efforts to expand and accelerate access to clean energy. In so doing, we have an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate an enormous health burden that currently weighs down nearly half the world, especially its women and children, and thereby free up a vast amount of human potential".

The report also highlights the impact household air pollution has on climate as household combustion is a significant source ofgreenhouse gases and is estimated to produce 25% of global emissions of black carbon, a short-lived climate pollutant. Black carbon is the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide (CO2), and disrupts regional environmental systems critical to human welfare.Reducing household air pollution presents an unparalleled opportunity to realize climate and health co-benefits.

The Executive Summary of the report can be downloaded here. The full report will be available by the end of March, 2016.

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