Three billion people, almost half of the world’s population, rely on wood, charcoal, and dung for cooking and heating purposes. Energy poverty is one of the least discussed aspects of our current energy challenge, yet it poses serious threats to economies, national security, the environment, and public health throughout the world.
The slums near Manila Bay are unhealthy enough—the Ulingans live next to a rubbish dump. But the rudimentary process of making charcoal in open pits next to the dump site exposes the squatters to even more harmful emissions such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and soot, as well as chemicals from burning treated wood. The result is a myriad of respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Estimates suggest that 60% of the population has tuberculosis while other lung problems and water-borne diseases are commonplace.
Children, who comprise a vital portion of the work force, labor without protective masks, gloves, or boots. Some are naked. They work and play in thick toxic smoke, dragging soggy scraps of wood scavenged from garbage dumps and construction sites. Groups of children scour areas of ash and soot searching for lucrative metal left exposed by continual burn off. Makeshift shelters constructed from tarpaulin and plastic are strewn across the landscape. Instead of going to school, children – usually young girls – have to spend hours collecting firewood to heat their homes to cook and to sell.
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