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date: 30 April 2017

Indoor Air Pollution in Developing Countries

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Household air pollution from solid fuel use is a major problem in developing countries, where 90% of the population relies on solid fuels as the primary source of domestic energy. Reliance on biomass fuels has multiple impacts on individuals and households, local environments, and globally. For individuals, the impact on health can be large, as household air pollution from solid fuel use has been associated with acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and other illnesses. Other household level impacts include drudgery and high opportunity costs of biomass fuel collection and processing. Harvesting and burning biomass fuel affects local environments through its contribution to deforestation and outdoor air pollution. At the global scale, inefficient burning of solid fuels contributes to climate change. While improved biomass cookstoves have been considered the most feasible near term intervention in the most resource poor settings, their ability to achieve exposure reduction to levels that meet the health standards is questionable. Furthermore adoption levels have continued to remain low, with limited evidence on how the barriers to adoption and use of the technology can be overcome. Nevertheless, the issue of indoor air pollution in developing countries has gained considerable attention in the current decade, with both local and high level international initiatives in place to address the challenge. These concerted efforts could enable a transition from biomass to cleaner fuels; but for this to occur, there should be an enabling policy environment, especially at national levels, and new modes of financing technology delivery and financing. More research is needed to guide intervention programs and policy; especially on exposure-response relationships for various health outcomes, and on how to overcome the poverty barrier and achieve a wide-scale transition from biomass to cleaner forms of energy.