op-ed

Coal Helps Developing Countries Fight Poverty And Disease. Quit Whining About It

Developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America face the uphill task of reducing mortality due to diseases, many caused by poor hygiene and other localized pollution concerns accompanying poverty.

Poor communities are constantly exposed to diseases caused by poor hygiene and lack of basic facilities like latrines, sewers and sewage treatment plants, and purified water supply. Mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, water borne diseases like diarrhea, and others are common among people who live in areas with extremely poor hygiene.

Households suffer from poor domestic air quality due to open-hearth wood and coal burning for cooking and heating. Lack of electricity and natural gas can restrict the provision of adequate water and hamper the use of modern household equipment like cooking stoves and electric motors.

Historically, coal-powered energy has played a pivotal role in helping these nations improve their healthcare facilities to support and sustain their expanding populations.

A recently released critique of a report in The Lancet reaffirms the indispensable role of coal-powered electricity in improving healthcare in poor communities.

Coal is the cheapest and most abundant energy source in the world’s two largest developing countries, India and China, with combined population near 2.7 billion. In both these countries, coal-powered electricity has helped achieve reliable and affordable uninterrupted power supplies.

Many people in wealthy countries consider coal a dirty fuel. On the contrary, used to generate electricity it is much cleaner than wood and other biomass, and the economic and civic benefits of electricity generated from it have helped improve domestic air and water quality, preventing millions of deaths.

However, coal-powered conventional electricity faces a severe threat from environmentalists who falsely portray it as causing both traditional air pollution (fine particulate matter and toxic gases) and dangerous global warming.

Yet in cities like Delhi, India, domestic coal burning, farming practices, and vehicular emissions are the main sources of air pollution.

Anti-coal establishments routinely understate the contribution of coal-powered electricity to the economic progress of most developed countries, which have benefitted from a traditionally coal-powered economy.

Grave misconceptions concerning the ill effects of electricity generated from coal plants can stall economic progress in developing countries. Such countries can address their pollution and healthcare problems more effectively if they are allowed to harness conventional energy sources like coal and natural gas.

The Philippines, China and India have already expressed their displeasure towards restrictive energy policies disguised as climate-change policies. Other developing countries should join them if they desire the rapid economic progress that makes both better healthcare and poverty alleviation possible.

Vijay Jayaraj is a research associate for developing countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.