Mobilizing a $100 Billion Market to Bring Clean Cooking Solutions to the Poor

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Harmful fumes from a traditional outdoor wood stove, Lesotho

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.

Unlike malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, for all of which the death toll is dropping every year, the number of premature deaths due to household air pollution is actually rising. Why is this happening?

About 2.8 billion people, over a third of the world’s population, rely on open fires or inefficient stoves to cook and heat their homes. They use solid fuels such as charcoal, wood or other biomass, animal dung, and coal, all of which produce toxic smoke that pollutes the air inside and outside their homes.

This is the reality in many developing countries. The challenge is how to fix it. That’s what this forum in Cambodia seeks to do. The World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, or ESMAP, together with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, offers some recommendations in a forthcoming report, which I will discuss in Phnom Penh. The key points: 

  • The clean cooking market has immense potential. Think of it: 700 million households spend over US$ 100 billion on cooking fuel each year. This is a solid base for market development. Proof of that potential is the strong growth among clean biomass enterprises and improved cookstove manufacturers in recent years.
  • Still, the market potential is not fully realized. Consumers may not know which cookstoves are more efficient and healthier. Those in the market to buy clean cookstoves may not have access to the credit they need. There is a need for donors to support clean cooking solutions, including to get market activity started.

The Bank launched the Africa Clean Cooking Energy Solutions initiative – or ACCES – in 2012. It’s a program designed to make clean fuels and technologies accessible and affordable in Sub-Saharan Africa.  It supports consumer engagement, business development, access to financing, as well as support for policy reform that encourages clean cooking solutions.

Senegal, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have started piloting ACCESsince November 2012, with market and consumer research studies and a regional quality assurance program in collaboration with the Global Alliance. The World Bank’s partnership with the Global Alliance started when the latter was founded in 2010.  Both have been working to bring clean cooking to 100 million households.

Clean cooking is also an important part of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, a global effort to achieve universal access to energy by 2030. Access to energy is defined as access to both electricity and clean cooking fuels.  I insist on this because clean cooking fuels are often overlooked in the access agenda.

The household cooking tragedy—a deadly tragedy, as we have seen—continues, in part, because its victims are the world’s poorest people. By using market forces, we can save countless lives and ensure better health and well-being for families, especially the women and children who make up most of the victims. When I see the results some countries, such as China, for example, have achieved in finding safer cooking solutions, I’m convinced that we can solve this problem. The challenge is to mobilize the resources and scale up successful approaches. If we meet it, we can build a future in which women and children don’t die from toxic kitchen smoke.


S. Vijay Iyer

Director, Sustainable Energy Department

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