The fact that over 120 million Nigerians face serious health risks through exposure to smoke from cooking with firewood and other solid fuels underscores the need for the government to liberalise cooking gas consumption in the country. DAYO OKETOLA reports
Mrs. Esther Abati (about 70) is a small scale farmer from Iwokun-Nla village in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State. Despite her age, she still cooks for herself, but with firewood at a cooking stead located right in the middle of her mud house, thus emitting smoke that causes indoor air pollution constituting a serious threat to her health. Unperturbed by the smoke which chokes her up on a daily basis, Mama (as she is called by neighbours) said she had been cooking in the same location as long as she could remember. She remembered to have cooked great meals when her husband was alive and she was much younger.
“We are used to cooking with firewood. Our forefathers also cooked with it and nothing happened to them; so, nothing will happen to us,” she said in Yoruba. Mama knows next to nothing about the health risks (as pneumonia, cardiovascular diseases, chronic lung disease and lung cancer, as well as ill-health) associated with cooking with firewood and other solid fuels such as charcoal, sawdust and agricultural residues, among others.
Unlike Abati, Mr. Jimoh Erinwole, another farmer from the same community was not totally ignorant of the consequences of cooking with firewood and other biomass. He, however, decried his inability to switch to kerosene, an equally dangerous cooking fuel, due to his financial incapacity. “We know it is dangerous to our health, but there is nothing we can do. Kerosene is very expensive here and firewood is the only alternative,” he said.
Mr. Kola Adekunle’s story is not different. He lacks the knowledge as to how his health could be compromised by being exposed to smoke from the open fire used for cooking, but saw no end in sight to his predicament due largely to lack of financial wherewithal required to adopt a better cooking fuel.
Abati, Erinwole and Adekunle are mere representatives of over 120 million Nigerians said to be ‘cooking their health’ away everyday through the use of wood, charcoal, agricultural residues, or animal waste for cooking.
The International Energy Agency in the World Energy Outlook, 2012, said over 120 million Nigerians rely on solid fuels for cooking. The EIA said 2.6 billion people rely almost exclusively on biomass for cooking globally and more than half of them are in India, China and Bangladesh. These countries are followed by Indonesia and Nigeria; the latter alone accounts for over 120 million of those cooking with solid fuels.
Experts have decried the large number of Nigerians caught up in the labyrinth of this health-threatening practice due to chronic poverty and lack of access to modern cooking fuels and stoves.
The Global Burden of Disease 2010 study, the biggest survey of global health ever undertaken, also found out that four million people die prematurely every year from illnesses linked directly and indirectly to indoor air pollution due to the use of solid fuel and virtually all of them are in poor developing countries like Nigeria.
The results of the study, released in a series of articles in the Lancet Medical journal in December 2012, revealed that “there is a wealth of evidence that exposure to pollutants produced by burning traditional biomass and coal indoors in open ?re or stoves for cooking – notably carbon monoxide and particulate matter (soot) – can cause serious health problems and death.”
The GBD study said, “Of those deaths, 500,000 are caused by the effects of second-hand cooking smoke that wafts up the chimney and out of the doors and other openings of the home. Of the total number of deaths, 500,000 are attributed to child pneumonia; lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which accounts for most adult deaths.
According to the study, household air pollution is now the single most important environmental cause of premature death worldwide, accounting for almost seven per cent of all deaths globally.
The World Health Organisation has also said indoor smoke from solid fuels is one of the leading causes of avoidable deaths and ill-health worldwide. It added that the majority of the people affected are women, who cook for their families and their children, who often stay close to them in the kitchen.
The Group General Manager, Engineering and Technology, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and Vice-President, World LP Gas Association, Mr. Adebayo Ibirogba, said, “Four million people are dying annually basically from the smoke that is emitted when solid fuels are burnt within households. Of this four million people, most of them are women and children.
“I am sure when you travel, particularly to the suburban and rural areas in Nigeria, you will see women carrying firewood with a child in tow and another in the back and sometime they are pregnant. They all go into the kitchen to burn these solid fuels and they don’t understand the impact the smoke has on their health. This causes a lot of damage.”
“It is true that people that are exposed to smoke from cooking with solid fuels risked certain health condition,” the Head, Oncology Department, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Prof. Remi Ajekigbe, said. “When you inhale smoke, its polycyclic hydrocarbon goes into your lung and it can cause all the things mentioned in the WHO report including lung cancer.”
In a report entitled, ‘The Socioeconomic Impact of Switching to Liquefied Petroleum Gas for Cooking,’ the World LP Gas Association maintained that the environmental consequence of cutting down trees for firewood is equally serious.
“The local and global environment may also be degraded, as the demand for biomass encourages deforestation, the use of animal waste degrades soil quality and, to the extent that it is used unsustainably, burning biomass contributes to global warming. Burning solid fuels also contributes to local and regional air pollution, notably smog,” the WLPGA said.
In Nigeria, 19 northern states are plagued with desertification due to consistent cutting down of trees for firewood.
The President, Nigerian LP Gas Association, Mr. Dayo Adeshina, said, “Today, 19 states in the North suffer from desertification. One of the ways of solving that problem is the use of LPG because people are cutting down trees for firewood.”
•Challenges with kerosene
Kerosene, which should have been an alternative for majority of Nigerians, is not widely available in the market in spite of N634bn spent by the Federal Government on kerosene subsidy in three years. Precisely, N110bn was spent on kerosene subsidy in 2010, N324bn in 2011 and N200bn in 2012. These came up to N634bn in the three years, and had been largely condemned by stakeholders as wasteful spending.
Rather than deepen LPG consumption, the government continues to spend huge resources on kerosene subsidy while only a few Nigerians could actually buy the product at the regulated price of N40.90k per litre.
Although kerosene is often advocated as a cleaner alternative to solid fuels, studies have also revealed that emissions associated with the use of kerosene indoor are quite enormous and dangerous. From accidental explosions, ?re and poisoning, experts say using kerosene for indoor cooking might cause lung infection, tuberculosis, asthma and cancer risks. There are also many cases of kerosene explosions in Nigeria, some of which resulted in deaths.
The way out of this conundrum, experts say, is to switch from firewood, coal and kerosene to LPG. However, with the cost of switching to LPG extremely high for the average Nigerian household, 120 million Nigerians, most in the rural and semi-urban communities, according to EIA, continue to rely heavily on the traditional firewood method for cooking.
•LPG stakeholders speak
With a gas reserve in excess of 187 trillion cubic feet, Nigeria is the largest LPG producer in West Africa, but its utilisation in the country ranks among the lowest in the region at a consumption rate of 150,000 tonnes per year.
The Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, World LP Gas Association, Mr. James Rockall, wondered why the country’s consumption rate remained low despite being a major oil and gas producer, a status that should naturally have deepened LPG consumption in the country because of the availability of the product.
He said, “Nigeria’s position as a net producer and exporter of crude should already put the country in the category of high LPG consumers because the product is available. The consumption rate is so low and if you look at the sub-Sahara Africa on the average, it is 2.5kg per person per year. But it is 0.8kg per person per year in Nigeria and this is exceptionally low. And when you put that in the context of petroleum export, it is really quite surprising that LPG consumption is so low in Nigeria.”
According to him, the average consumption of LPG in North Africa is 53kg per person per year, far above the 2.5kg per person per year average consumption in sub-Sahara Africa. Lamenting that LPG consumption in Nigeria is less than 1kg per person per year, Rockall said, “If we were to take the average consumption based on GDP, Nigeria should be consuming 12kg per capital. With these figures in mind, 1 million LPG consuming Nigerians should be feasible by 2015.”
Adeshina, the NLPGA president, reckoned that health challenges associated with using solid fuels present a fantastic opportunity for LPG consumption to be catalysed through a deliberate government policy in Nigeria.
He recalled that the WLPGA, NLPGA and the Federal Government in 2009 signed a communiqué, where the target was that LPG consumption would have been deepened to 1 million tonnes by 2015.
He said, “In 2013, unfortunately we are still at 150,000 tonnes and I think that we are encouraged by the fact that LPG has been brought to the front burner and essentially, we need a roadmap to solve all the various challenges which plaque the sector such as tariffs, duties on equipment, cylinder manufacturers and challenges with the power sector, which LPG can be a solution to.”
To get most Nigerians out of this deadly situation, Adeshina said the Federal Government needed to understand that the advantages that come with using LPG were not just for the people alone but also for the government. He said these could come in terms of substantial revenue accruing to the government from the expansion of the market, employment generation massively increased, and a lot more people living healthier lifestyles in a cleaner environment.
He said, “Thankfully, Lagos State Government has taken the lead via the Eko Gas initiative, which is a pilot project to have cooking gas skids installed in the 27 local governments of the state and also to give out cylinders for free to people in the rural areas over a three-year period.
“Laudable as that initiative is, this sort of scheme needs to be replicated nationwide because Nigeria is about 175 million people. And we haven’t even scratched the surface with this initiative but it is a step in the right direction; hopefully, the Federal Government will also take a cue to help the people to switch from kerosene, firewood and coal to LPG.”
According to the NLPGA boss, the Federal Government needs to take a conscious decision to drive a mass shift from kerosene to LPG as it was done in Indonesia and the first thing to do is to stop kerosene subsidy.
He said, “Until that happens, nothing is going to happen from the government as far as LPG consumption is concerned. The Indonesian government took a conscious decision to stop kerosene subsidy, which was gulping $9bn a year. They found that they would only need to invest $2bn in cylinder and cooking stoves to save $7bn.
“We need to get to that level when we will consciously shift from kerosene to LPG and that can only happen with the right government policy.”
Adeshina argued that the N634bn spent on kerosene subsidy had little impact on the masses while enriching only a few.
Ibirogba, the NNPC chief, said having the right policy was very critical to catalysing LPG consumption in the country.
He said, “Six countries have been identified as being the consumers of solid fuels worldwide and these are India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Of these six countries, only Nigeria produces more LPG than it requires. Regrettably, we don’t consume it, we export it.
“So, we found ourselves in a situation where at the end of last year, we reportedly produced about 2.7 million metric tonnes of LPG but as a nation, we consumed only 50,000 metric tonnes. Everything else is exported. We are grossly underutilising gas. So, this presents a major opportunity to change our energy mix and place more emphasis on what we have and therefore import less of those things that we do not have.”
In view of this, Ibirogba said a policy document aimed at accelerating the use of LPG was already been looked into by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Adebayo, who represents NNPC on the board of the World LP Gas Association, said, “I can tell you that the Minister of Petroleum, who is our boss, has already issued directives and we are working on policies to accelerate the switch from kerosene to LPG. Obviously, our policy will also be accommodated within the PIB when it is passed.
“We are all moving towards ensuring LPG growth. NNPC is one of the largest producers of LPG in Nigeria; so, we are going to be one of the key players and a key determinant of the success of this entire programme. In no time, we envisage a situation where LPG will be used all over,” he added.
The Nigeria LNG Limited has been supplying LPG to the domestic market since 2007 and it had, on August 1, 2013, increased supply from 150,000 tonnes to 250,000 tonnes.
The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria LNG Limited, Mr. Babs Omotowa, said Nigeria’s position as one of the top producers of LPG in the world needed to be matched with its domestic consumption.
The private sector, according to him, cannot solely engineer the growth of the domestic LPG market. He added that government support and drive are required. He said the optimal model was the private sector-driven market with government intervention to remove bottlenecks, kick-start growth and create a favourable business environment.
Omotowa said precedence seen in other developing countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, India and Senegal showed that growth in LPG consumption was stimulated by government intervention.
According to him, LPG still contributes only about five per cent of cooking fuel in the country and as such, a Public/Private Partnership is required to deepen the market.
He said, “Capital intensive nature of LPG operations requires government support. And public funds are best suited for high investment outlay required for infrastructural development as considered too risky by the private sector.
“Higher number of private sector participants is also required to deepen and create an efficient market. Barriers to market entry must therefore be tackled while regulatory environment must be backed by government control.”
Key areas for government intervention, according to him, include fiscal incentives such as removal of VAT on LPG, levelling the playing field among fuels, giving taxes and duty concessions for LPG equipment and cylinders, as well as providing accelerated capital allowances on infrastructural investments in the LPG distribution chain.
He said the government could also looked into financial/monetary incentives by providing affordable financing at lower interest rates to players, government guarantees on loans, and targeted subsidies to encourage fuel switching by lower income earners.
The NLNG boss also said the government should support and incentivise increased domestic production, direct importation of cylinders for distribution to Nigerians and direct involvement in terminal and storage development.