The Silent Killer in the Kitchen

Today, 3 billion people, which is almost half of the world’s population, are still cooking on traditional stoves or open fires. This issue may seem less crucial but household air pollution leads to more deaths in the world than malaria and HIV. Part of the problem is actually that it’s an issue not being taken with the seriousness it deserves. The cooking habits have a strong influence not only on health and environment, but also on livelihoods, especially of women and children.

Kenya has a population of 41 million, with 78% living in rural areas and an annual growth rate of 2.5%. 82% of the total energy used nationally is derived from biomass with low grade biomass and agricultural residue used for cooking putting increasing pressure on natural resources. Three stone open fires and traditional stove use is widespread and the major source of Household Air Pollution (HAP) causing respiratory diseases and eye damage. Traditional cooking methods are a health risk, they cause deforestation and climate change, and they are unnecessarily expensive to some of the world’s poorest people. Actually, replacing the traditional 3-stone cook stove with an improved one can dramatically improve a family’s health.

The sad fact is that many people are not aware that the wood smoke emits toxins which cause eye problems, lung and heart diseases and an increase in the risk of strokes. Experts say, even when aware of the dangers, the “silent energy crisis” may be a deterrent to the use of energy-efficient wood stoves.
Smoke and particulate matter is a serious health risk, especially to women and children who spend the most time near the stove. When wood burns, it emits 26 hazardous air pollutants including carbon monoxide, ammonia, and methane as well as fine respirable particles of less than 2.5 microns (µ) that penetrate deep into the lungs.

These particulates compromise the body’s defence systems and its ability to filter and remove toxic particles. Smoke has also been thought to be a factor in the development of asthma, cataracts (the leading cause of blindness worldwide), low birth weight, and adverse pregnancies.

The traditional method of cooking on a three-stone cooking fire is the cheapest stove to produce, requiring only three suitable stones of the same height on which a cooking pot can be balanced over a fire but it’s the most expensive in the long run considering its adverse impacts both on health and environment.
Deforestation and erosion are often the end result of harvesting wood for cooking fuel. The main goal of Carbon Zero in its initiatives to ensure that many families across Kenya have access to an improved CZK cook stove is to reduce the pressure placed on local forests by reducing the amount of wood the traditional stoves consume. Additionally, the money a family spends on wood or charcoal translates into less money being available to be spent on food, education, and medical care; so Carbon Zero sees an improved cooking stove as a way of boosting a family’s income.

A Global Burden of Disease study published in Dec 2012 (Lim S.S. and others), reports that about 4 million premature deaths are attributable to Household Air Pollution. In 2000, WHO ranked indoor air pollution (IAP) as one of the top 10 health risks in the world. It reported that globally 1.5 million people (predominately women and children) die each year from respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease and cancer from indoor cooking stove smoke. Improved stoves are more efficient; meaning that the stove’s users spend less time gathering wood or other fuels, suffer less emphysema and other lung diseases prevalent in smoke-filled homes, while reducing deforestation and air pollution.

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