It may come as a surprise to know that half of the global population uses biomass (wood, agricultural wastes and dung) and coal for cooking. For Sub-Saharan Africa where electrification rates outside of South Africa are only 28%, biomass and coal are the primary cooking fuels for over three fourths of the population. Combustion of unprocessed biomass fuels, especially in open or poorly ventilated stoves, emits high concentrations of pollutant mixtures – particulates, and carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide – associated with a number of respiratory and other diseases and is the leading cause of death among infants and children worldwide.
Since the task of cooking is mainly done by women and girls, it is they who face daily exposure to levels of pollution which are estimated to be the equivalent of consuming two packets of cigarettes a day (Kammen, 1995; Ezzati and Kammen, 2001).
Smoke from domestic fires kills nearly two million people each year, and sickens millions more. This places indoor air pollution as almost as critical a health threat as poor sanitation and AIDS, and a greater threat than malaria. Without systematic changes, household biomass use will result in an estimated 8.1 million Lower Respiratory Infection (LRI) deaths among young children in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, between 2000 and 2030 (Bailis, Ezzati, Kammen, 2007).
All of these factors highlight the critical need to evaluate the effectiveness of cookstoves at not only reducing emission, but in impacting health.