Radha Muthiah, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, recently took time out from her busy schedule to answers some questions for CleanTechnica about the benefits of distributing clean cookstoves.
1. Of the several million people that die every year from indoor air pollution, how many are from cooking fires?
More than 4.3 million premature deaths each year are linked to exposure to smoke from open fires and traditional cookstoves. This figure also includes deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution from household fuels – what you might call “secondhand cook smoke.” That means someone dies every eight seconds due to the simple act of trying to cook for their family or heat their home.
2. How many diseases are caused every year by cooking fires?
A range of diseases – including pneumonia (in children), lung cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which comprises diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis – are the main cause of the more than 4.3 million deaths from household air pollution each year. Tens of millions more fall ill from these diseases. Men and women alike are affected.
Researchers are still evaluating the link between cooking fires and a range of diseases and conditions, such as tuberculosis and other types of cancer. Evidence gaps in these areas need to be addressed to guide intervention strategies, benchmark standards, and to make the most compelling case for investing in clean cooking solutions.
3. What non-polluting alternatives are available to replace the use of traditional cookstoves and open fires?
There is an impressive range of clean cooking solutions available, running stoves on ultra-clean fuels like ethanol or liquid petroleum gas to turning animal waste into biogas. Smokeless electric stoves, natural gas and solar cookers are options. These alternatives reduce the air pollutants from cooking with solid fuels that are hazardous to health. Importantly, they benefit the environment, as well, with minimal greenhouse gas emissions compared to wood or charcoal.
Cleaner and more efficient cookstoves and fuels are also cost-efficient options for the families using them, and the money saved can be used for other important purposes, such as school fees or medicine. Additionally, cleaner and more efficient cooking solutions can cut down on the time women and girls spend gathering firewood, allowing girls to devote more time to their education and women to spend more time improving their families’ livelihood.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership with 1,000 global partners, is working to promote these clean alternatives across the world and to develop a thriving market for these stoves to enable wide-scale adoption and ensure long-term sustainability.
4. How many lives can be saved by replacing indoor cooking fires with non-polluting cooking methods?
The Alliance’s goal is “100 by 2020,” which means we are aiming for 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020. That means potentially saving millions of lives now and in the future.
5. How many children die every year due to indoor air pollution?
Approximately half a million children die every year from pneumonia caused by breathing in soot from cookstoves. We are talking about young children – more than half of premature pneumonia deaths in children under five result from this kind of pollution.
6. Where are most of the indoor air pollution deaths taking place every year?
Asia and Africa. Among the factors causing premature death, household air pollution is the second biggest risk factor for women and girls. In south Asia, it is the top risk factor for both sexes. But household air pollution is a truly global problem and the Alliance is working across four continents (Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Latin America) to address it.
7. Are most of the fatalities women and girls?
Not necessarily – all members of the household are at risk. In absolute terms, the impact on men is greater. This is largely because men have higher background mortality rates of major diseases (i.e., their mortality rates are higher, regardless of cause). But in relative terms, the health burden is much greater for women and girls. They usually take on more of the household duties, including cooking, and therefore have greater exposure to cook smoke and are at a higher risk for disease due to household air pollution.
8. What can a concerned American or European person do who wants to donate? What charities are the best to donate to in order to reduce these deaths and the disease rate?
To support the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, you can visit the web site www.cleancookstoves.org to learn more and donate. All donations directly support Alliance programs and activities that foster the adoption of clean cooking solutions in developing countries.
In addition to donating, there are plenty of ways to raise awareness of this vital and under-reported issue: Like the Alliance on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. We encourage you to show your support for clean cooking solutions ahead of the Cookstoves Future Summit on November 20–21 (www.cookstovesfuturesummit.org), which will bring together leaders from around the world to spur action on adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels.
9. What are some of your immediate organizational goals as far as reducing indoor air pollution harm?
The Alliance’s partners distributed over 14 million cleaner and more efficient cookstoves just last year, and we are actually well ahead of our targets to ensure that households everywhere have access to clean, efficient cookstoves and fuels. Our focus as we enter the second phase of the Alliance’s ten-year plan, is on scaling the use of cleaner and more efficient cookstoves and fuels. In the short-term, this will mean working to ensure that clean cooking technologies are designed in a way that makes sense for the end-users, and are more accessible and affordable to them, as well as building awareness and demand among potential users. It also means building the evidence base, developing international standards for clean cooking solutions, and ensuring that the value chain includes a wide range of relevant stakeholders. All of these efforts will help the Alliance achieve its goal of having 100 million households adopt clean cookstoves and fuels by 2020.
10. What is the awareness level of the people who use indoor cooking fires in terms of the harm of air pollution?
It is very low at present. People cough, wipe their eyes and fall ill from the smoke – they know the smoke is to blame but are not sufficiently aware of just how deadly this silent killer can be. After all, who would imagine that cooking can kill? Our hope is that by championing the issue the Alliance can build awareness both globally, through the media and key decision-makers and influencers, and locally, through health workers, village leaders and NGOs.
Photo Credit: Romana Mapreet and Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
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