NEW YORK – One of the major causes of death and disease in the world’s poorest countries is indoor air pollution. Diplomats, U.S. government officials, manufactures and advocates gathered in New York on Thursday, November 20, 2014 for a conference to devise ways to alleviate the problem.
The pollution is a result of using solid fuels such as wood, coal, charcoal and dung. Half of the world’s population depends on using solid fuels on a daily basis for cooking and heating. Smoke enters the home and releases damaging pollutants such as carbon monoxide, which results in many health issues.
The mortality rate is especially high in the developing world, where most people in poverty-stricken areas rely on solid fuels to heat their homes or cook food. These families are exposed to smoke and other toxic chemicals produced by the burning of solid fuels in homes with little to no air circulation.
While millions of deaths from well-known diseases often make headlines, indoor air pollution remains a silent killer. Up to 4 million people in developing worlds die every year from illnesses triggered by smoke and other toxins that fill their homes every time a stove is used to cook a meal, putting women and children at the most risk.
“In some parts of the world, especially where I come from, in Ghana, in Africa, across the continent as a whole, the way we go about our cooking also affects the way in which we live our lives and the impact on the environment and on our economies,” said Hanna Tetteh during a panel discussion at the World Clean Cookstove conference.
Families spend up to six hours each day collecting fuel for cooking, with the burden falling on mostly women and children. It is a physically demanding and time-consuming task, which can also put their safety at risk. According to the World Health Organization, it can lead to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and pneumonia.
In some ways, indoor air pollution can be more harmful to the environment and health than outdoor pollution. Air pollution caused indoors not only affects people but hurts the environment as well. Wood used as fuel results in deforestation in areas where trees used for fuels are being harvested faster than they can grow. Moreover, the pollution from stoves used for solid waste causes green house gas emissions.
“It’s a very big problem, and it’s one that we can tackle,” Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told Newsweek on Thursday.
Fortunately, the alliance has solutions in hand. Advanced biomass cookstoves and forced-air-stoves can reduce air pollution, while using less fuel and producing fewer emissions. Solar cookstoves have been used successfully in some regions of the world. Adding chimneys to homes can also dramatically reduce indoor pollution and increase air circulation.
Several U.S. government agencies, including the EPA and the Department of Energy, are testing stoves and working on technology. Although there are no definite standards for a clean cookstove, some stove models were manufactured to use alternatives to solid fuel, including the ethanol gel that uses a kerosene replacement to reduce spilling, fuel pellets and liquefied petroleum gas cylinders. A greener approach to this would be using solar power to fuel stoves.
Cookstoves can cost as little as 15 dollars but can also cost up to 150 dollars in some places. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is funded by public donations, and it helps to get stoves into many of these households. Last year, partners of the alliance distributed 11.7 million stoves in seven countries alone. The alliance hopes to have 100 million homes adapt to clean cooking by 2020.
– Sandy Phan