Indoor air pollution emanating from open fires or leaky cookstoves is the fifth-largest health risk in the developing world, according to the World Health Organization. Massive deforestation caused by households collecting firewood is also a huge problem. The use of so-called “clean cookstoves” - stoves that use clean fuel such as natural gas, or cut down on solid fuels such as firewood - is being touted as a way of combating indoor air pollution and deforestation. Aid groups met in Kenya’s capital recently to fine-tune promotion efforts.
Roseline Amondi is making githeri, a traditional dish of maize and beans, for her small restaurant in the informal settlement of Kibera in Kenya’s capital.
She places her sufuria, or cooking pot, on what is called a “clean cookstove,” powered by biogas harnessed from the community toilet.
Amondi says she now pays one-tenth of what she used to when cooking.
“Me, I have a small hotel [restaurant]. I was using wood," she said. "You can just see that sufuria - it is black. And now, I can cook with gas; it is a pride on my side. In fact, I am very happy, because even charcoal, we buy, and also even wood, we buy at a higher price. But this one is only 10 shillings.”
Saving money is one of the many benefits of clean cookstoves, which use natural gas, solar power or electricity, and can also utilize solid fuels such as firewood or charcoal more efficiently.
“When you have a clean cookstove, the level of particulate emissions, the smoke that you are breathing, is reduced drastically, and therefore you get the health benefits from using a clean cookstove,” said Radha Muthiah, the executive director of the Washington-based Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
Clean cookstoves feature chimneys and other ventilation structures, grills to hold the firewood in place, and insulation.
Traditional cookstoves and open fires release carbon dioxide, methane, and other harmful emissions.
“Traditional stoves can also create indoor air pollution," said Laura Clough, a market researcher with the Global Village Energy Partnership. "People often cook in small spaces that are not well ventilated, and the smoke and emissions given off can lead to long-term health consequences.”
These consequences include pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. Emphysema, cataracts, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease are also risks.
The World Health Organization estimates that nearly two million people, 500,000 in East Africa alone, die prematurely every year of illnesses arising from indoor air pollution.
Aid groups are working on promoting and subsidizing clean cookstoves primarily for rural households, which rely heavily on firewood and charcoal to cook their food.
Between 2006 and 2011, GIZ disseminated 1.3 million stoves on a commission basis all across Kenya, saving up to 50 percent of firewood per stove.
“If you calculate that, it’s about 1.4 million tonnes per year saved, which is equivalent to 78,000 hectares of tree cover saved,” said Anna Ingwe, the coordinator of the Kenya Cookstove Program at the German aid agency GIZ.
An important consideration in a rapidly-deforesting region.