Thursday, October 14, 2010

LPG - an alternate fuel source in the Himalayas.

The study published in Environment Impact Assessment Review, was conducted by researchers from Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF), Institute of Socioeconomics, a, Germany.

    The Himalaya in India; is among the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world; is one of the most fragile ecosystems. Out of many factors responsible for the decline of the Himalayan forest. Extraction of wood biomass for fuel is one factor.
    The degradation of the Himalaya has its effect on the low lying Gangetic plains which often gets flooded during the rainy seasons. Thereby threatens the lives of millions in thickly populated and vast plains of the river Ganges.   
   In the 1980's, the large rural population have no alternate option available for wood fuel demand, required for cooking, water heating, room heating etc. They were solely dependent on nearby forest resources. The extensive use of wood for cooking and heating caused indoor pollution which over a long period of time exacerbates asthma and causes lung and heart disease.

       Over exploitation of forests creates an imbalance and wood for fuel is one of them. The research reported that around 50% of the global wood harvested is for fuel.
      There was an urgent need for alternate energy resource, in order to reduce pressure on the forest ecosystem as well as change the lifestyle of the rural population. But, the population growth rate in the Himalaya is 2.47% which is much greater than the global average of 1.3% and further threatened the conservation and management plans.



  The Introduction of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in the Himalayan belt was one problem solving attempt by the Government of India. A detail study of LPG and wood fuel consumption of every household was conducted to know the corresponding effects of LPG usage. This also included door to door survey of the area studied.
        In last two decades, the researchers studied the use of LPG in three time points. As of 1983 no one was using LPG. With its introduction in 1985, 20 % of the household were among the early adopters of this alternate source of energy.
        The study further was conducted at decade intervals. By 1990 and 1995 about 70 % of the population had embraced LPG, and by 2000 and 2005 the figure increased to 90%.  It was further concluded that the use of LPG was slowly accepted by the large rural population. At first, only the new innovators followed by early adopters took the initiative. After being influenced by the positive effects of LPG, these early adopters helped in spreading the popularity of this new innovation. In the same period of time, the absolute decrease in wood fuel consumption was 48%, which is still significant because there was a tremendous population growth of 140%.

        It was difficult to study every aspect of forest ecosystem, so the researchers observed the main aspects relating to a healthy forest ecosystem. The number of saplings and seedlings determines the regeneration capacity of the forest, which eventually increased after the introduction of LPG. Subsequent increase in species richness of the shrubs was also recorded in the forests studied. The rapid reduction of the pressure on the forest significantly increased the canopy cover, which in turn increases the moisture content and nutrient level in the soil.
        LPG is least polluting and have reduced the indoor pollution, leading to better health of rural population. The pressure on the forest was significantly decreased with the introduction of LPG as substitute of wood fuel.  The important aspect of this innovation was the positive effect on the life of rural population and the landscape of the Himalaya. 
        As I hail from the majestic Himalaya, I may connect well to the research and the innovation which facilitated the tough rural life in the in the  distant villages of the Himalaya. It made the household life much easier, no longer the people went into the forests to collect firewood.  The life was much relaxed then the earlier generations, but their still room for improvement. The decreased human activity has left most of the forest undisturbed and the habitats are healing. But in some parts of the region, illegal logging  activities severely threatens the interest of the flora and the fauna.

Ankit Sajwan


Fuel switching from wood to LPG can benefit the environment
Sunil Nautiyal ⁎, Harald Kaechele (2008)
Environmental Impact Assessment Review 28 (2008) 523–532

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