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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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 Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs