Could Biofuel Policies Increase Death and Disease in Developing Countries?
Indur M. Goklany, Ph.D.
ABSTRACT: Higher global demand for biofuels, driven mainly by policies in industrialized countries with the stated purpose of enhancing energy independence and retarding climate change, has contributed to rising global food prices. As a consequence, more people in developing countries suffer from both chronic hunger and absolute poverty. Hunger and poverty are major contributors to death and disease in poorer countries. Results derived from World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) studies suggest that for every million people living in absolute poverty in developing countries, there are annually at least 5,270 deaths and 183,000 Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost to disease. Combining these estimates with estimates of the increase in poverty owing to growth in biofuels production over 2004 levels leads to the conclusion that additional biofuel production may have resulted in at least 192,000 excess deaths and 6.7 million additional lost DALYs in 2010. These exceed WHO’s estimated annual toll of 141,000 deaths and 5.4 million lost DALYs attributable to global warming. Thus, policies intended to mitigate global warming may actually have increased death and disease in developing countries.