Other View

Investigating the vital link between Clean Energy and Maternal Health

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

How Sustainable Solutions Transform the Well-being of Mothers and Communities.

By: Neha Aggarwal

The relationship between clean energy and maternal health is a subject of increasing importance as countries around the world are seeking to transition from fossil fuels towards more sustainable sources of energy. This relationship between clean energy and maternal health has been continuously ignored. From solar, wind, and hydropower to geothermal, clean energy technologies offer a range of benefits that extend beyond environmental sustainability, including improved public health, enhanced energy security, and economic growth. Access to clean energy is critical for improving maternal health outcomes in developing countries where women often rely on traditional sources of energy such as wood, charcoal, and kerosene for cooking, heating and lighting. It has been found that regions with high levels of maternal and newborn mortality have the highest overlap with regions lacking modern energy sources.

Through an in-depth exploration of case studies and a foundation in scientific research, this article highlights that clean energy initiatives not only champion environmental sustainability but also significantly bolster maternal health outcomes.

Traditional sources of energy and Maternal Health

The traditional sources of energy emit hazardous emissions that not only damage the earth’s atmosphere but also deteriorate the health condition of individuals. Women are the worst to suffer from the reliance on fossil fuels for cooking. According to the UN Women’s 2014 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, women take on the majority of care work and cooking in the households exposing them to harmful smoke emitted from biomass-burning cookstoves. Indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than the acceptable level of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), as per WHO. Inhaling these toxic fumes kills more people than malaria, and women are disproportionately affected. Exposure to smoke and other pollutants during pregnancy and the postpartum period can increase the risk of maternal and newborn mortality, as well as complications such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, and stillbirths. Each year, more than 300,000 women worldwide die from pregnancy-related and childbirth-related issues, and more than 1 million newborns die in the first month of life. WHO data reveals that soot inhalation accounts for 45% of pneumonia mortality in children under the age of five, and women exposed to high levels of indoor smoke have a twofold increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease compared to women who use cleaner fuels and technology.

Women’s health is adversely affected by long-term household use of non-clean energy sources such as firewood, coal, and cow dung. Households in developing countries (regions) such as Southeast Asia, South Africa, the Sahara, and China have used unclean energy for a long time, which has caused more obvious harm to women’s health. It has been found that a third of people on the planet (2.6 billion) lack access to clean fuels.

Benefits of Clean Energy Sources

Cleaner household energy eliminates harmful emissions such as CO2, NO2, PM (Particulate Matters), etc., and optimizes indoor air quality. It reduces the likelihood of women being diagnosed with respiratory diseases. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, access to clean energy can reduce the burden of indoor air pollution by up to 90%, reducing the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. A study conducted in India found that the use of clean cookstoves was associated with a 37% reduction in the risk of stillbirth and a 21% reduction in the risk of low birth weight. Similarly, a study conducted in Nepal found that the use of biogas stoves was associated with a 42% reduction in the risk of stillbirth and a 22% reduction in the risk of low birth weight. A study in China found that clean energy consumption increased from 2000 to 2014 while maternal mortality rates decreased, indicating a strong negative correlation between cleaner household energy and maternal mortality.

It has been found that the mortality rate is high in regions that lack modern energy resources, access to solar and wind energy that can provide electricity can be a powerful solution. When health facilities will have sufficient and reliable power, women will be able to safely give birth. Also, with cleaner energy sources, clinics would be able to preserve lifesaving vaccines for newborns and children. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the critical link between clean energy and maternal health, with several examples of how clean energy sources have improved maternal health outcomes in different countries. In India and Nepal, traditional cookstoves that burn solid fuels like wood, charcoal, and animal dung are commonly used for cooking. In recent years, the introduction of improved cookstoves that use clean-burning fuels like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in India has resulted in improved maternal health outcomes, with reduced rates of preterm birth and low birth weight. Nepal has installed biogas systems that convert animal waste into clean-burning fuel has reduced exposure to harmful pollutants, resulting in a decrease in maternal mortality rate.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where access to electricity and healthcare services is limited in many rural areas, solar-powered health clinics have emerged as a solution. By providing clean energy to power medical equipment and lighting, as well as improving access to maternal healthcare services, solar-powered clinics have contributed to reduced maternal and infant mortality rates and improved health outcomes for mothers and babies. Similarly, access to clean drinking water is a major challenge in many areas of Bangladesh, particularly in rural areas. The installation of wind-powered water pumps has improved access to clean water, reducing the incidence of waterborne diseases that can impact maternal and child health.

Challenges in implementing Clean Energy Solutions

It is crystal clear that clean energy is critical in achieving sustainable development. However, implementing clean energy solutions is a daunting task, fraught with challenges. One of the biggest challenges in implementing clean energy solutions is the high installation costs. The initial cost of installing clean energy solutions is financially difficult for governments of low-income countries to manage. Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure and technical capacity to support the deployment of clean energy technologies. In many areas, there may be insufficient access to the necessary resources, such as trained personnel, equipment, and financing, to implement clean energy solutions effectively. This limits the ability of communities and governments to adopt and benefit from these technologies.

Furthermore, the policy and regulatory framework can present significant challenges to the implementation of clean energy solutions. In some cases, policies may be outdated or insufficient to support the deployment of clean energy technologies. Additionally, there may be a lack of coordination and collaboration between different levels of government, which can lead to conflicting regulations and a fragmented approach to clean energy implementation. Finally, there may be social and cultural barriers to the adoption of clean energy solutions. For example, in some communities, traditional practices and beliefs may limit the adoption of new technologies, particularly if they are perceived as unfamiliar or disruptive.

Way forward

Despite these challenges, there are several opportunities to overcome these barriers and promote the adoption of clean energy solutions. The need is to invest in research and development to drive down the costs of clean energy technologies, build technical capacity and infrastructure to support clean energy deployment and create policies and regulations that support the adoption of clean energy at all levels of government. Moreover, there is a need for greater public awareness and education to promote the benefits of clean energy and dispel myths and misconceptions about these technologies. This can help to build a more supportive environment for the adoption of clean energy solutions and foster greater collaboration between different stakeholders.

Since the cooking technologies that use cleaner fuels are expensive, subsidies must be poured in from development organizations. UN Women’s World Survey also highlights the need to invest in efficient solid-fuel stoves or cooking technologies that use cleaner fuels, especially in rural and peri-urban areas, and to involve women in stove design, testing and social marketing. Thus, implementing clean energy solutions is a complex and challenging task that requires a multi-faceted approach. However, with the right policies, investments, and social support, it is possible to overcome these barriers and realize the full potential of clean energy technologies for a sustainable future.

The relationship between clean energy and maternal health is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of sustainable development. To achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, it is imperative that we invest in clean energy solutions and acknowledge the multifaceted benefits of such initiatives for maternal health and overall societal well-being. By doing so, we can pave the way for a healthier, more sustainable, and equitable future for all. (www.jkpi.org)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *