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  • Donna Rosa

When Cooking Kills

Updated: Dec 15, 2019

Would you use your barbeque grill inside your home?

In many developing nations meals are prepared indoors on open fires or inefficient stoves using wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal, dung and kerosene. The dwelling fills with dangerous pollutants that can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels.

We in the food industry don’t often think about the cooking of food, especially in developing countries. The reality is that the simple act of meal preparation kills 3.8 million people every year. Women and young children are especially vulnerable. According to the World Health Organization, the home death trap picture looks like this:

% of Deaths from Indoor Cooking

Pneumonia 27%(45% are in children under 5)

Ischemic heart disease 27%

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 20%

Stroke 18%

Lung cancer 8%

The hardships are many. Gathering fuel involves considerable time for women and children, limiting otherwise productive activities such as income generation and school attendance, and sometimes exposing them to physical danger. Environmentally, carbon and methane emitted by inefficient stoves exacerbate climate change, and there are safety risks such as burns, eye irritation, and children ingesting kerosene.

The solution is clean, affordable cookstoves. While that sounds simple, it isn’t. Many types of cookstoves have been developed, such as solar, ethanol, and high efficiency biogas stoves that reduce fuel usage and emissions. But these stoves must be produced and sold at very low cost, and financing, marketing, and distribution systems must be established. The fuel source must be both affordable and readily available locally. Training is needed to properly operate and maintain the stoves. And there is often cultural resistance, with objections ranging from doubt that the stoves will cook as well as conventional methods to recipients remaining unconvinced as to why they are needed.

Still, efforts from NGOs, the World Bank, and other agencies are making slow but steady progress. In addition to health benefits, clean cookstoves allow poor families to save money on fuel and can open the door for women to start their own food businesses and earn incomes.

This fight is winnable, because no one should die from cooking.

For more information visit the Clean Cooking Alliance.


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