News

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.
Comments
     
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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs