A fire in NepalFor Blog Action Day this year we’ve joined the One Campaign’s topic of Energy and how this can impact on the basic needs and human rights of those living in Nepal.

We often talk about being in an ‘energy crisis’ in the West; whether it’s running low on fossil fuels or the need to develop cleaner energy sources. This discussion often preoccupies people from the fact that millions of people all around the world are being denied some of their basic human rights because they simply have no or little access to clean energy.

Around 1.6 billion people currently have no access to electricity. This affects everything from living standards, health services to education. Currently in Nepal it is estimated that by the end of the year 23% of children under 5 will die. With the majority of these deaths being treatable diseases and infections.

At Our Sansar we provide a healthy and stable environment for children to live and learn in; our current Children’s Home Project allows us to provide this for street children living in Birgunj. This project shelters children from the daily hardships of child labour, abuse and hunger, that they would normally face.

In order to fully grasp the effect ‘energy poverty’ can have we spoke to PhD student Kris Chan from London; who gave us a real insight into the impact energy has on the developing world.

‘Biomass burning (the practice of burning wood, dung, charcoal or agricultural by-products for energy) remains the primary source of cooking energy use for 40% of the world population. The energy source poses substantial problems for the 2.5 billion reliant on it from health, livelihoods and lost opportunity costs. With issues concerning biomass being disproportionately borne by women and children, biomass has drastic consequences in the attainment of children’s basic human rights.

The collection and use of biomass fuel is heavily gender imbalanced. In the developing world, it is generally women who bear the responsibility of cooking for a household. This subjects them to heavy respiratory risk if biomass burning is their dominant source of energy for cooking. Indoor air pollution from burning more than trebles the risk of women developing pulmonary diseases (in comparison to a doubling for men). Women’s role in the upbringing of young means children’s health is similarly impacted as they are often present during food preparation, often being carried on their mothers’ backs as babies. Due to their under-developed immune systems, children are of particular risk from indoor air pollution; children are three times more likely to contract acute respiratory infections when using biomass fuels compared to cleaner energy sources in cooking and heating. This contributes to more than 800,000 deaths in children under 5 annually. As children are also expected to help in the collection of biomass, there is increased risk of malnourishment and stunted growth associated with the energy expended collecting firewood and other fuels. In less safe areas, women and children are also subject to sexual abuse or physical attack during their collection. As both the protection of children and their healthy development is considered a basic child right under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the use of biomass clearly constrains the prospect of meeting these rights.

The time imposed in the collection of firewood or cooking limits the ability of women to engage in other income-earning opportunities and children from engaging in education. Children from poorer backgrounds are three times less likely to be in school than those of a richer background in the developing world, partly as a result of having to assist their families with wood and fuel collection. Worldwide, 57 million children still lack primary education. With primary education as a fundamental child human right in addition to an aim of the Millennium Development Goals, biomass fuel use clearly poses a substantial obstacle to such rights being realised. Biomass fuel use can therefore subject children to a cycle of poverty as the prospect of improving their economic status in later life is diminished.

Globally, 1.6 million premature deaths can be attributed to indoor air pollution from biomass, making it the 6th largest health risk in the developing world. As we have seen, a disproportionate cost is imparted on both women and children, imposing significant limitations in their ability to achieve even basic child human rights of education and safety. Beyond this, time spent on the collection of firewood and other biomass fuels limits children’s future opportunities, leading to an inability to break the cycle of poverty.’

So what can we do?

We need to reach out and help those people living in such detrimental conditions. We need to break this cycle of poverty and secure a brighter and better future for children living in Nepal and across the globe. By helping support and raise awareness for our cause we hope to begin those first steps in relieving children from the harsh realities of our modern world.

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