Across the world’s poorest countries, nearly three billion women spend hours cooking family meals several times a day on basic indoor stoves.
And every year, nearly two million people, mostly women and children are killed by smoke from dangerous stoves, according to the United Nations.
Because of the waste used as fuel, a lack of a chimney and bad ventilation, many of these women die from lung and heart disease, as do their babies who are often at their feet while they work.
The figures came under the international spotlight yesterday as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton announced a plan to install 100 million clean-burning stoves in kitchens across villages in Africa, Asia and South America by 2020.
The United States is providing about £32 million over five years for the project, called the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Other donors are expected to pour in an extra £6m or more.
Pollution in the home from basic cooking facilities is a “cross-cutting issue” that affects health, the environment and women’s status in much of the world, said Clinton. “That’s what makes it such a good subject for a coordinated approach of governments, aid organisations and the private sector,” she told The New York Times newspaper.
She acknowledged that the American government’s contribution of $50 million was a modest commitment for a problem with enormous implications for billions of people worldwide.
Indoor pollution from dangerous cooking appliances is the fourth greatest health risk in developing countries, after dirty water, unsafe sex and undernourishment, according to The World Health Organization. It is also mainly women and children who gather the fuel they need to cook with. And going out to collect fuel, means millions are exposed to dangers in war-torn regions. Millions of children also stay out of school, because they are needed to help find fuel.
The idea behind the cookstoves plan is not just to use donations to buy millions of safe new stoves and ship them out to the developing world. Instead, the group hopes to attract entrepreneurs with small companies that make or buy the stoves close to where they are needed, taking into account local cooking methods and fuels. This model is hoped to bring business opportunities for women.
“The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” said Reid Detchon at the United Nations Foundation, one of the project’s founders.