Information and Fuel Choices in Unequal Rural Households

Indoor air pollution caused by burning solid fuels is one of the major sources of morbidity and mortality in rural households. These fuels include firewood, coal, charcoal, animal dung cakes, agricultural residue, dry twigs and leaves. The latest Census report states that more than 85 percent of rural Indian households still depend on these polluting fuels and appliances for their daily cooking, heating and lighting requirements (Census of India, 2011). Combustion of these fuels release pollutants which have deleterious effects on human health and the environment. The pollutants emitted include suspended and respirable particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, arsenic, fluorine, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and other organic compounds (The World Energy Assessment, 2000). Some of these emissions are carcinogenic and genotoxic in nature. Inadequate ventilation combined with incomplete combustion of these inferior fuels may lead to high levels of indoor air pollution that may exceed standard air quality guidelines by several hundred times (Ezzati and Kammen, 2001). Prolonged exposure to such high levels of indoor air pollution increases both morbidity and mortality risks (Smith-Sivertsen, 2009; Smith, 2000; Bruce et al., 1998).

Women and children who spend time near the domestic hearth are more likely to suffer from the ill-effects of indoor air pollution (The World Development Report, 1997; Bruce et al., 1998; Pitt, Rosenzweig and Hassan, 2005). According to the World Health Report (2002), indoor air pollution is responsible for 36% of all lower respiratory infections and 22% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 1.5% of trachea, bronchitis and lung cancer. It is also associated with heart disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight and still births, tuberculosis, cataract, blindness and asthma (World Health Report, 2002; Smith, 2000; Smith-Sivertsen, 2009, Bruce et al., 1998). Poor health outcomes due to indoor air pollution can lead to a fall in labour productivity which may in turn result in deterioration of the household’s economic status (Duflo, Greenstone and Hanna, 2008).

The project studies the factors that affect household’s choice of fuels and associated devices. It attempts to determine how these choices are made when additional information about the costs and benefits associated with fuel used is provided, in particular, when there is unequal bargaining power among the members of the household. This would be accomplished through field experiments that will study the following.

1.The type of information that results in higher uptakes of cleaner fuel related alternatives.

2.In households where male and female members have unequal bargaining power, who should be the recipient of information so that uptakes are higher?

3.Assuming variation in bargaining power of female members, how are uptake levels affected with the variation in the recipient of information?