By Alejandro Martínez Villegas President of the Colombian Association of LPG- GASNOVA
In Colombia there are 982,000 families that use open fireplaces to cook food, boil water or heat the environment, fueled by solid fuels, such as firewood or coal, according to the most recent National Survey of Quality of Life of the DANE. This is worrisome because the intramural contamination associated with these fuels for food preparation is associated in Colombia with a thousand annual deaths (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, 2015); The World Bank calculated, in 2014, that Colombia allocates $ 1.1 billion (0.22% of GDP in 2009) to address the health impacts associated with indoor air pollution, mainly caused by the use of firewood.
LP Gas, commonly known as propane gas, is used by more than 12 million Colombians in 83% of the national territory and is the most competitive fuel to replace the use of firewood. It has great advantages, particularly for the poorest people in the cities and for those who live in remote areas, where it is not economically efficient to build electricity transmission lines or pipelines to bring them natural gas. In fact, the use of state resources to co-finance the laying of natural gas pipelines and distribution networks in regions of the country with low population density has been questioned.
It is noteworthy that LP Gas has its highest consumption in Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Nariño, Bogotá and Valle, regions that have extensive subsidies to natural gas and electricity, according to the ‘Indicative LPG supply plan’ prepared by the Unit of Mining Energy Planning (UPME) in 2018. It is not only because of the custom of using propane cylinders, it is also because the poorest people do not have to pay the rush or the minimum monthly charges of natural gas: with the cylinder they prepare and They manage their fuel consumption. But returning to the consumption of firewood and the need to replace it with LP Gas, the country has an excellent experience since 2013: for the first time in that year subsidies were granted to the consumption of LP Gas in what was called the Pilot Plan . There are five departments (Cauca, Nariño, Putumayo, Caquetá and San Andrés Islas) that today enjoy a subsidy of 50% and 40% of monthly subsistence consumption, for families of strata 1 and 2, respectively; while studying the inclusion of Amazonas in this plan. An estimated 342,464 households benefited. In a recent audit of the Pilot Plan, contracted by the government, the consulting firm calculated that the use of firewood was reduced from 25% to 1.14% and that of coal from 4% to 0.04%. This benefited the health of thousands of users and contributed to environmental protection.
From an environmental perspective, this subsidy is also very important because it reduces deforestation: it is estimated that nationally in 2017, 219,973 hectares were deforested, 23% more than in 2016.
Obviously, it was time to extend the Pilot Plan to the whole country. The Mining Energy Planning Unit of Minminas, recently hired a study from COSENIT, a consultant that has proposed to reach 225,000 homes that consume firewood in three years, through a subsidy on the consumption of LP gas in cylinders.
This implies an average annual investment of $ 67,410 million in subsidies. It is a reasonable sum, with a clear social and environmental justification, compared to the $ 721,865 million annual subsidies for natural gas. Undoubtedly the poorest people in urban centers and those who live in the most remote areas of our geography, need the State to help them improve their standard of living by giving them access to a fuel that replaces the consumption of firewood.