Household Cooking Emissions Claim Tens of Thousands of Lives in India

The fumes from household cooking fuels pose a huge and largely unrecognized health hazard to inhabitants, especially women and children -and India, with its huge rural population, suffers an inordinate number of deaths from cooking fumes. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, health campaigners say rural households must switch to cooking stoves that cause less pollution.

It is a common sight across Indian villages: women cooking the family meal on traditional stoves that burn wood, leaves or animal dung.

Few people - including the women themselves - realize that the black, acrid smoke that billows from these kitchen fires is a silent killer.

Scientists say the fuel in primitive stoves fails to burn completely, and produces poisonous pollutants such as carbon monoxide. Those who inhale this smoke regularly become vulnerable to acute respiratory ailments such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and can even develop tuberculosis and lung cancer.

The World Health Organization says the scale of the problem is massive in India, where 650 million people depend on cheap fuels for cooking.

The National Officer for Sustainable Development at WHO's India office, A.K. Sengupta, says household smoke claims tens of thousands of lives across the country, mostly in poor rural homes.

"Indoor air pollution is almost four, five times more problematic than outdoor air pollution, and there are almost 400,000 deaths per year due to indoor air pollution," Sengupta said. " The rural population is quite big and alternate fuels are not easily available."

The WHO says India accounts for roughly one-third of the one and a half million deaths caused worldwide by use of cheap cooking fuels every year.

Most of the victims are women and children because women traditionally do the cooking, and children stay at home with them. In fact mothers often cook with babies in their arms, exposing the infants directly to the toxic smoke.

Health campaigners say the best way to reduce the hazard is to provide poor communities with improved stoves that give out fewer emissions.

A handful of government-sponsored programs to design and distribute such stoves have been undertaken, but they have met with little success so far.

For example a project in Maharashtra state to distribute pollution-reducing stoves to rural homes flopped. Village women simply discarded the stoves, known in India as "chullahs."

Rashmi Patil, a professor at the Center for Environmental Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, explains why rural communities rejected the chullahs.

"The scheme is not very popular, it was not very successful…the villagers are reluctant to use them because they are not trained how to use them," Patil said. "Suppose some part goes out, their own chullahs they can repair, but these chullahs, the parts are not available, they cannot repair it themselves…. The benefits of the chullah was not explained to them, no training was given to them on the maintenance of the chullah."

Patil says experts are trying to rectify these problems by designing stoves that are easy to maintain. They are also launching education programs to raise awareness about the need to switch to better stoves.

Some voluntary agencies have also undertaken initiatives to design less-polluting stoves.

The Shell Foundation, a Britain-based charity organization, is working with local groups in India to develop and market clean cooking stoves for rural communities.

The director of the Shell Foundation, Kurt Hoffman, says the stoves are being sold, not distributed free of cost, because the profit motive ensures that a viable product is developed for the consumer. He says the foundation is involving local markets and women's groups to reach village homes.

Hoffman says the program began three years ago, and has begun reaching rural communities in several parts of the country.

"It is a trial-and-error process, so in the early stages we found or our partners found that there were lots of complaints, and the stoves were rejected," explained Hoffman. "Over time, the products have become better. There is a particular product similar to a pressure cooker almost that has been fantastically successful."

However, the need is so huge that such initiatives cannot meet the demand. For example, Shell has sold about one hundred thousand stoves in Maharashtra state - but the need is for 10 million.

Experts say in the long run, countries like India must move to using cleaner fuels - but given the massive poverty, this could still be decades away.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs