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Saving lives and energy in Nepal

Across the world, nearly 2 million people die each year from illnesses such as pneumonia, lung cancer or tuberculosis, where the inhalation of smoke from cooking is an underlying cause.

Billions of families prepare their daily meals over open fires or stoves using charcoal, wood or animal waste for fuel, often in cramped dwellings with inadequate ventilation. Women, girls and young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoke inhalation, spending long hours in the home while food is prepared.

In Nepal, an estimated 7,500 people die each year due to indoor air pollution (IAP) and the country’s Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (APEC) is working to reduce this number. APEC is a government agency responsible for the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. This month it celebrates the installation of more than 600,000 improved cooking stoves across the country. These stoves have been installed in households since 1999, the agency working in conjunction with a number of local companies and non-governmental organisations.

Householders pay a contribution of 6 to 17 dollars to have the basic mud-brick stoves set up in their homes. For those who can afford it, metal stoves can also be provided at a cost of 90 dollars, with a 50% subsidy available from the government to families who live high up in the mountains (over 1,500 metres). Both types of stove significantly lower internal smoke, as well as reducing the amount of fuel needed and time spent cooking. In an article on the success of the stove installation programme in Nepal, one eighteen year-old taxi driver told IRIN “when I used to cook on my old stove, my eyes would water from the smoke.”With his improved stove, smoke is funnelled outside.

Under its ongoing ‘Energy Sector Assistance Programme’, around 8,000 installers have been trained to build improved stoves and APEC has a target of installing 475,000 more over the next five years. This equates to twice the number already constructed. But there is still a long way to go. Many families are too poor to pay even the modest fees required for the improved stoves and some would like to see subsidies available for these people. And with over 3 million households still using traditional stoves in Nepal, health and environmental agencies hope greater awareness about the dangers of smoke inhalation will help to change attitudes and build a greater momentum for change.

Laurinda Luffman signature