Too big for the Third World's pocket

 
Published: Thursday 30 September 1993

-- HOW MUCH oil would be needed to replace all the firewood used in the developing world? According to one set of calculations, just about one-twentieth of all the oil used by the world.

But for women in the developing world, access to this oil would mean relief from hours of back-breaking labour collecting firewood and inhaling wood smoke while cooking. A study in the early 1980s in Karnataka estimated a woman in the state's dry parts walked 1,400 km a year just to collect firewood. In addition, she collected water, worked in the fields and at home and bore children. Not surprisingly, no woman, given a choice, would prefer firewood over kerosene or gas.

Assuming an average per capita fuelwood consumption of 0.4-0.7 tonnes a year; an energy content of 0.37 tonnes of oil equivalent per tonne of firewood; end-use efficiency of chulhas at 13 per cent, of kerosene pressure stoves at 40 per cent and of LPG stoves at 50 per cent, some 3,000 million full-time firewood users in the developing world would need about 130-225 million tonnes of oil, or an average of 175 million tonnes, to replace their firewood. This is a fraction of the world's oil use, and probably would not amount to more than all the oil used by New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco put together.

So, why don't the poor get the oil they need? Not because the resource is scarce, but because the world markets function in a way that they cannot afford oil.

A Western analyst may well question why the rich world should provide this oil. Surely the developing world can generate enough oil savings to provide some of the 175 million tonnes of oil needed by its poor people.

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