Health and Energy Policy Roundtable

EPD attended and presented at a recent Health and Energy Policy Roundtable event held in Cape Town. The roundtable was hosted by the UCT School of Public Health and Family Medicine; African Climate & Development Initiative (ACDI); and groundWork South Africa.The event aimed to bring together health professionals, researchers, and academics with energy policy experts to identify the health implications of current energy policy and systems in the Western Cape and South Africa; to develop a position for a healthy energy policy; and to develop a collaborative strategy for mobilizing the health sector on energy and health impacts.

Louise Tait presented at this event on the health impacts of energy consumption by poor households. The presentation focussed on articulating a framework for understanding risks and how they arise, through systems of supply and distribution of different energy carriers. She also discussed the current energy policy framework related to this cross-cutting issue, and explored questions for the role of the health sector going forward.

This issue is crucially important in South Africa given the significant health and safety risks that poor households are unnecessarily exposed to in the consumption of various fuels such as wood, coal, candles and paraffin. Energy access is fundamentally about promoting improved developmental outcomes from the use of modern fuels and technologies. Provision of a modern energy service should be one that is “affordable, reliable, high-quality, safe and environmentally benign… to support economic and human development” [UNDP, 2000]. It is relevant to note that safety is therefore seen as a key aspect of a modern energy service. However the energy-health nexus, being such a cross-cutting issue, often receives inadequate policy attention. There is an important need to highlight the impacts on human life, health and the economic consequences of energy health issues.

Although all energy use has inherent dangers and risks, these can be mitigated through appropriate technology (appliances), distribution systems, regulation and behaviour. Therefore health risks should be understood as failures or inadequacies in these aspects of the system of energy supply, rather than inherent to the fuel itself. The case of paraffin (or kerosene) in South Africa is a good example of this. Whilst this fuel can in theory be consumed in domestic settings in a safe and modern manner, in reality it poses severe risks to consumers in South Africa. The risks originate from inadequacies in:

  • Fuel distribution systems – paraffin is distributed in bulk to retailers rather than pre-packaged containers. Customers bring their own containers to purchase the fuel – often empty cooldrink bottles. This creates significant risks in the home when children mistake it for cooldrink, and as a result SA experiences a severe incidence of accidental poisonous ingestions of paraffin by small children.
  • Appliances – illegal and unsafe cooking appliances continue to flood the market despite their banning in 2006. Many households are still not aware that these appliances they use are illegal and that safer alternatives exist.
  • Regulation – there is limited regulation regarding packaging and still inadequacies in appliance safety standards. Added to this are challenges in policing and enforcing existing regulations in informal settings.
  • User behaviour – users lack awareness and education of the risks associated with paraffin and safe practises and behaviour.

The presentation from this roundtable is available here: Tait_Energy Health for Poor Households_Pres2