One in three people worldwide – mostly women and girls – are exposed to harmful smoke when cooking with solid fuels on open fires or simple stoves. This is according to the World Health Organization, which has classified indoor air pollution from cooking as a leading cause of death and disease.
In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where most households still cook with solid fuels, the problem is particularly acute. A recent study found that women who cooked with wood and charcoal were more likely to die prematurely than those who didn’t.
Indoor air pollution from cooking is linked to a range of health problems, including respiratory infections, lung cancer and heart disease. It is also a major contributing factor to the global burden of disease, responsible for an estimated 4.3 million premature deaths each year.
There are a number of ways to make cooking safer, including switching to cleaner fuels such as LPG, electricity or biogas, and using more efficient stoves. But these options are often not available or affordable for the poorest households.
One promising approach is the provision of universal access to clean cookstoves. A number of initiatives are underway to promote the adoption of clean cookstoves in developing countries, including the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership launched in 2010.
So far, the uptake of clean cookstoves has been slow, due in part to the high upfront cost and the lack of awareness of the health benefits. But with the right policies and programmes in place, it is possible to accelerate the transition to clean and safe cooking practices.
In 2016, the WHO released new guidelines on household air pollution and health, which included a series of recommendations for governments, the private sector and civil society on how to improve access to clean cookstoves and promote their use.
The guidelines also called for more research on the health impacts of cooking with solid fuels, in order to better understand the magnitude of the problem and the most effective interventions.
With the 2019 World Health Assembly just around the corner, there is an opportunity for member states to commit to taking action on household air pollution from cooking. This would be a significant step towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring access to clean energy for all by 2030.
Make cooking safe for all — including those in developing countries, say indoor air pollution experts
A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for action to protect people from the harmful effects of indoor air pollution, particularly in developing countries.
The report, entitled “Make Cooking Safe for All – Protecting Health from Indoor Air Pollution”, was released at the first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health in Geneva.
It highlights the dangers of cooking with solid fuels such as wood, coal or dung, which are still used by some 3 billion people – mostly women and girls – around the world.
Exposure to smoke from these fuels has been linked to a range of health problems including respiratory infections, heart disease and cancer. In fact, indoor air pollution is responsible for the premature death of some 4.3 million people each year, the vast majority of them in low- and middle-income countries.
The report notes that the problem is particularly acute in developing countries, where more than 80% of households still rely on solid fuels for cooking. It calls for a switch to cleaner, safer fuels and technologies, such as solar cookers, improved stoves and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
It also urges governments to do more to promote the use of these alternatives and to put in place policies to protect people from the health hazards of indoor air pollution.