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The Slow Killer Smoke from the three stoned Traditional African Cooking Fire Place and the blessing story of the emerging clean cooking stoves

Through decades of research and emerging evidence, the use of solid fuels with inefficient cook stoves adversely impacts human health, pollutes the environment, and slows socio-economic development.

Teo Sanchez (2012) captures it all when he admits that “When I was a child, all households in my village (including my parents’) used three stone cook stoves. The vast majority still cook the same way now. I left home at 17 and came back home many years later. The first wrong thing I saw (according to my perception) was the smoke coming out from my mum’s kitchen. ..I was already an engineer and was working on small scale renewable energies. Although I wasn’t working on stoves at that time, I was aware of the harmful effects of smoke and the excessive fuel consumption of three stone stoves. I also had read about improved stoves and had seen designs being spread out in different parts of the world in developing countries. The same day I arrived home, I asked my mother to change her three stone stove for an efficient and clean one that I would bring and install in her kitchen. I explained the benefits of the new stove, which from my point of view were great.”CookStove1

Over the last decade, in a growing number of developing countries, there has been a welcome shift toward the use of more clean and sustainable cooking technologies and fuels, away from the traditional practice of cooking over smoky open fires. However in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) over 82% of the population (700 million people) remains dependent on solid fuels such as charcoal, dung, fuel wood, and other biomass for cooking purposes and this number is projected to increase to 900 million by 2030 (World Bank, 2012), with devastating effects.

On health as is made clearly by the World Health Organisation, indoor smoke from coal, wood or dung used as cooking fuel by more than 3 billion people worldwide ranks ahead of unsafe water as a cause of death in low and middle income countries. About 1.5 billion have no access to electricity, with 1 billion more having access only to unreliable electricity networks.

Exposure to indoor air pollution from incomplete combustion of biomass fuel accounts for nearly 500,000 premature deaths annually in SSA and contributes to the global disease burden.

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, “Cookstove smoke kills 1 person every 16 seconds— almost half the world’s population still cooks food, boils water, and warms their homes by burning wood, animal and agricultural waste, and coal in open fires or rudimentary cookstoves.”

The World Helath Organisation (WHO) deems that harmful smoke from cooking is one of the top five threats to public health in the Global South.

On 25 March 2014 in Geneva, The World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2012 estimates of the global burden of disease from air pollution. After analysing the risk factors and taking into account revisions in methodology, WHO estimated indoor air pollution was linked to 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households cooking over coal, wood and biomass stoves. The new estimate is explained by better information about pollution exposures among the estimated 2.9 billion people living in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel, as well as evidence about air pollution’s role in the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia in children, low birth weight babies and lung cancer. Among these deaths:12% are due to pneumonia, 34% from stroke, 26% from ischaemic heart disease, 22% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 6% from lung cancer (WHO, March 2014).

In addition women often keep small children close to them during the preparation of meals exposing them also to dangerous levels of smoke and emissions which may lead to specific health conditions such as childhood pneumonia, lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and low birth weight in children. This is combined with small kitchens often in temporary huts that offer little ventilation to dispel these toxic fumes. children carried on their mothers’ back as they cook using smoky stoves contracted pneumococcal infections 2.5 times higher than non-exposed ones (WHO, 1997).

On the Environment , these emissions are important drivers of climate change and local environmental degradation. Unsustainable use of solid biomass for cooking contributes to forest degradation and loss of forest cover around urban areas. Furthermore, inefficient burning of biomass for cooking contributes significantly to GHG emissions.Firewood

Wood comes from trees. A great number of the world’s trees have been destroyed to obtain either timber, wood chips (for paper pulp), or firewood. Recent studies show that the emissions of black carbon, or common soot, from biomass cookstoves significantly contribute to regional air pollution and climate change. In fact, cookstoves account for some 25 per cent of black carbon emissions. Each family using a traditional cook stove can require up to two tons of biomass cooking fuel, and where demand for fuel outstrips the natural regrowth of resources, local land degradation and loss of biodiversity often result (Susan Collins 2014). The loss of trees is resulting in environmental problems such as increased erosion, increased flooding, soil salinization, and eventual shortage of timber, pulp and firewood and all other problems associated with desertification such as natural drying up of habitats.

On the social front, Women and girls, who have primary responsibility for cooking, spend hours each week collecting fuel wood. This translates into lost opportunities for increasing income, gaining education, and makes them subject to safety and security hazards. Indeed for millions of households in developing countries, cooking is more than just a daily activity, it is associated with long hours spent collecting biomass and finding the wood to cook meals is a daily struggle for many women around the world especially in Africa. This translates into lost opportunities for increasing income, gaining education, and makes them subject to safety and security hazards. The collection of this fuel is a burden that is shouldered disproportionately by women and children. The risks include rape and gender-based violence during the up to 20 hours per week they spend away from their families gathering fuel. Replacing these cookstoves with modern alternatives would help reverse these alarming health and environmental trends. (US Senator, Susan Collins 2014).

The situation is also captured by Hillary Clinton and Julia Roberts in USATODAY, June 2011, while noting that “on average, women and girls in developing countries spend up to 20 hours a week searching for fuel. Time they could spend going to school, running a business, or raising their families. And if they live in areas of conflict, leaving home to search for fuel puts them at great risk of assault or rape.

Clean cook stoves, a solution to Africa

The new estimates make it clear that reducing air pollution could save millions of lives and further underscore the need for clean cooking technologies for the close to 3 billion people who continue to live in homes using solid fuels for cooking and heating. Accordingly, sustainable Energy for All, Replacing out-dated cook stoves and open fires with modern energy services would prevent 800,000 child deaths annually.

Clean cooking solutions are those clean cookstoves technologies, fuels, equipment, and practices that address the health and environmental impacts associated with traditional cookstoves (Global Alliance). Considered to improve life and reduce toxic emissions when cooking meals, a clean cook stove is one intervention that addresses all the problems associated with inefficient use of solid fuels and a bridge towards the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with regard to ending poverty and hunger, gender equity, child health, maternal health and environmental sustainability. A clean cook stove means one less day of struggling to find enough wood to survive. It means increased safety, better health, sustainable fuel consumption, forest conservation, less harm to the environment, a higher income, more time and increased employment.

According to the State of the Clean Cooking Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa (2012) the emergence of enterprise based solutions across the clean cooking value chain is challenging the status quo and driving innovation in cookstove and fuel design, distribution, and financing.

In the same disposition, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership initiative, led by the UN Foundation, seeks to protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions, supporting large-scale adoption of clean and safe household cooking solutions as a way to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and reduce climate change emissions.

Together with these initiatives, ARSO shares in the commitment of the World Bank’s Africa Energy Group (AFTEG) and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), Africa Clean Cooking Energy Solutions Initiative (ACCES), and Sustainable Energy For All (SEFA), together with the world nations including the 25 nations in the sub-Saharan Africa that have joined to scaling-up access to clean cooking technologies and fuels in Sub-Saharan Africa geared towards achieving the goals of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative on access to modern technologies and cleaner fuels for cooking.

Protecting human safety and health and the environment are important ends of standards.

Minimum quality and safety standards allow consumers to assess the quality or safety of a product before purchasing it and enable regulators to exclude unsafe products from the market.

Through the ARSO THC 10 for Energy and Natural Resources, ARSO is contributing to the development and improvement of the clean cooking value chain by delivering the component of Quality Assurance and standardisation to support a thriving safe market to promote differentiated strategies to make clean fuels and technologies accessible and affordable in Africa, South of the Sahara.

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