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Traditional Stoves Detrimental to Heath, Environment in Nigeria

  • Heather Murdock

After malaria and AIDS, Nigeria's number one cause of death is diseases associated with traditional cooking. Activists say nearly 100,000 people die yearly in Nigeria from what they call a "silent energy crisis."

Bola Abiola serves amala, a traditional Nigerian dish made of yam flour while smoke billows from the nearby outdoor kitchen.

Like many Nigerian cooks, she does not know about the health risks from the smoky wooden stoves that boil the amala, which activists are now calling "killers" of both people and the environment.

But like many who cook with traditional stoves in Nigeria she doesn’t feel there is any choice.

"If we use kerosene or charcoal it takes too much time to cook the food and costs us a lot more money," she said. "Firewood is best for us because it takes 30 minutes to cook something that could take an hour and a half."

Activists say the wood smoke emits toxins, causing eye problems, lung and heart diseases and increasing the risk of strokes.

Hamzat Lawal works for the International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development in Nigeria, one of several organizations lobbying for new policies that increase the supply- and demand- for safer stoves. He says it has been difficult to get kerosene, gas or energy-efficient wood stoves in the hands of the people - most of whom cook on traditional wood stoves.

And he says, it’s not just the men and women who cook who are in danger.

"Our mothers carry our younger ones on their backs. And that smoke also affects them. So, over time we get to lose some of these children from the effects of the smoke," he said.

He says electrical stoves are not currently on the agenda because most people in Nigeria don’t have access to electricity. Those that have power, have it sporadically - sometimes only a few hours a day.

These men grill goat on the side of a street in the outskirts of the capital. Dan Malik says he spends all day standing over smoke from the wood fire. He says his eyes hurt and he expects other problems later in life.

"I’m aware of the long-term effects but I have no other options because I don’t have another business to turn to," he said.

Officials say traditional stoves in Nigeria are also unsustainable, with deforestation rates already among the highest in the world.