Almost all rural Africans and nearly three-quarters of those in urban centers use some combination of wood, dried dung, and charcoal as their primary source of household energy. By exclusively burning charcoal or, better yet, kerosene or another fossil fuel, many Africans could significantly trim indoor air pollution and prevent as many as 3.7 million premature deaths from lung disease over a 30-year period, says Majid Ezzati of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Indoor pollutants from wood and dung fires cause about 400,000 deaths each year, says Ezzati. From 2000 to 2030, the premature death toll from respiratory ailments in sub-Saharan Africa will total more than 9.8 million people, he and his colleagues predict.
Their analysis, published in the April 1 Science, suggests that a rapid transition toward using more charcoal and less wood and dung would stave off as many as 2.8 million premature deaths in the 30-year period. A quick shift instead to kerosene or other petroleum-based fuels probably would save an additional million lives, says Ezzati.