Really – let’s.
It’s a fact: Indoor air pollution from cooking with solid fuels including wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung, and crop waste in open fires and traditional stoves is the fourth leading cause of death in the world, after heart and lung disease and respiratory infection.
Nearly 2.9 billion people, a majority of whom are women, still cook with dirty, smoke and soot-producing cookstoves and solid fuels. That’s more people using these dangerous appliances than the entire populations of India and China put together.
This has to change. And change is happening as I heard from the various discussions that took place in Accra, Ghana at the Clean Cooking Forum 2015 last week. Hearing the Minister of Petroleum of Ghana and the Deputy Minister for Gender and Development, I realize that the ambition to provide clean cookstoves and cleaner fuels to the households who need it most is definitely there. But transforming ambition into reality is a challenge. This is true not just in Ghana but in many other parts of the world.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately, especially as we come up on the climate change conference (COP21) in Paris, where world leaders will gather to reach a universal agreement on mitigating the effects of climate change. Adopting clean energy sources is key to reach that goal. To that end, the UN’s sustainable energy goal (SDG7) that aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all also aims for bringing clean cooking solutions to the 2.9 billion who do not have it today.
In an appeal to civic duty, the Government of India is asking citizens to forgo a gas subsidy they receive so that gas cylinders can be transferred to the less fortunate. To encourage Indians to "Give It Up," the government called on business leaders to set an example and made the procedure extremely easy.
India recently launched an ambitious cash transfer program to help small businesses and households buy fuel. Under the plan, consumers of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), commonly referred to as propane or butane, receive a cash subsidy in their bank accounts to buy gas cylinders at market price.
Once joining the scheme, the subsidy, which is equal to the difference between the current subsidized rate and the market price, is transferred to the consumer’s bank account when he/she orders a cylinder. Another transfer is then provided at the time of delivery of the cylinder.
Last November, the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme for LPG was rolled out across 54 districts, with the rest of the country participating by January 1 of this year.
The scheme was launched by India’s previous UPA government in June 2013, but it was abruptly stopped earlier this year following court orders. It has since been modified to exclude the requirement of providing a unique identification number (Aadhaar) to avail the cash subsidy.
The idea behind the direct benefit transfer is that it can ensure that the subsidy meant for the genuine domestic customer reaches them directly and is not diverted. The Government of India hoped to save millions each year by curbing diversions and leakages in the system but also to ensure efficient delivery of subsidies to the target beneficiaries— the consumers.
She and leaders of governments, companies and organizations like the World Bank Group were gathered to pledge record amounts of finance and country-level actions to tackle the insidious health and environmental challenges posed by the simple act of cooking.
Growing up in India, I have always been conscious of the daily grind that women and girls in remote, rural areas go through just to prepare one meal. There’s the long, arduous and sometimes dangerous walk to get firewood, sticks or charcoal – whatever one can afford to find or buy. There’s the walk home, loaded down with that fuel. This can take up to five hours in rural areas – time that could be spent at school, work or building a small enterprise. And then of course, there’s the time spent breathing in smoke as they cook an often simple meal of bread, rice, lentils or vegetables. In India alone, more than one million deaths a year are attributed to traditional cooking practices - a shocking figure by any reckoning.
I’m back from the 2013 Clean Cooking Forum in Phnom Penh, and impressed with the insights shared by practitioners and household fuel experts from around the world. It’s good to see clean cooking at the center of the global development agenda. But to live up to expectations, we’ll need to keep working hard.
I’m on my way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the 2013 Clean Cooking Forum organized by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Consider this stunning fact: household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels kills four million people each year. That’s the finding of the latest Global Burden of Disease study, published in December 2012.
Well before sunrise in the small village of Msangani, Tanzania, Tunu ali Matekenya begins work at five, baking fresh bread. Formerly an agricultural laborer, Tunu’s life has improved thanks to entrepreneurship training she received in using advanced cookstoves.
“The oven I am using is very efficient, it is easy to use and consumes less charcoal, which reduces the cost of baking...all this means more profit” Tunu exclaims proudly.
In many areas of the developing world, women and children spend hours foraging for wood and other fuel sources then prepare meals around open fires or primitive cookstoves in poorly ventilated homes. Not only does this present an obvious fire hazard, but it also means they are inhaling toxic fumes from incomplete combustion of toxins that are responsible for nearly 500,000 premature and preventable deaths annually in Sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is particularly acute because 82 percent of the population depends on charcoal, dung, fuel wood, and forms of biomass for cooking purposes.