Worldwide, more than three billion people prepare meals over open fires or stoves fuelled mostly by charcoal or wood. Often living in small dwellings with inadequate ventilation, their exposure to the resulting smoke leads to a range of chronic illnesses such as pneumonia, lung cancer and tuberculosis. Women, girls and children are particularly vulnerable, since they often spend long hours in the home while food is being prepared.
A new study by the World Bank – On Thin Ice: How Cutting Pollution can Slow Warming and Save Lives – aims to draw attention to the dangers of traditional stoves, which are estimated to be a factor in the deaths of four million people each year. The report claims that if more efficient stoves were made available i.e. those which use less fuel or cooking devices which use clean energy from sources such as solar panels, many deaths could be averted.
Simple efficient stoves can often be mass produced and supplied for the cost of a few dollars. As well as providing health and environmental benefits, they also free up women and children from the onerous task of collecting firewood.
A cleaner planet
Co-authored by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (the cryosphere is the region of ice, snow and permafrost which runs from Siberia to Antarctica), the report suggests that new types of stoves could also crucially cut the kind of pollutants like soot and methane which are believed to speed up global warming. A UN study from 2011 estimated that limiting such air pollutants could slow the pace of warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius over the next four decades.
Speaking at a news conference, the vice president of the World Bank said that by addressing the issue of unclean stoves and by promoting less-polluting methods of cooking, “we can slow the rate of warming...[and] save millions of lives”.