When Cooking Kills
BY CHRYSULA WINEGAR
Imagine if you learned that the way you cooked for your family was killing them. Sarah, in Kenya, did. After losing a sister to lung cancer, she began to understand the issues. Two years ago she was able to do something about it, after she began to cook with a more fuel-efficient and cleaner cookstove.
Silent, almost invisible deadly indoor cooking smoke is damaging the lungs, eyes and hearts of almost 3 billion people. Two million premature deaths each year can be directly linked to indoor air pollution. We sat down with Radha Muthiah, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Alliance) to understand what’s being done to solve this problem.
MMC: Where is the greatest need for clean cooking solutions and how do you determine that?
RM: We have been examining data from all over the world as well as traveling to countries to make assessments, share ideas and invite local input into possible solutions. The Alliance is currently focused on several top priority nations, including Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana. We have been sharing our plan, asking for input – does this makes sense, is this how you see the Alliance facilitating change? We are getting an idea of commitment levels and making sure we understand each country’s specific infrastructural and cultural issues.
MMC: Cultural issues must be very important when you talk about how people cook. Does the type of food, or local conditions impact the kind of stove you need?
RM: Yes! And just because you are poor, doesn’t mean you don’t want a choice! Cooking is so personal. You have different types of dishes, needing a different kind of flame or ability to control heat levels. You have to involve women at the local level. It’s essential to consider how she cooks, what her daily patterns are.
MMC: Is the plan for the Alliance to donate cookstoves to communities?
RM: The Alliance will not be involved in donating or selling stoves directly. We’re working with our partners to create an affordable and accessible market for clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels.
We have found that when local people are involved in the design, manufacturing and sales of clean cookstoves, they are more widely accepted and used. The stoves, depending on materials and markets, range from a few dollars to more than $50. However, once purchased, they pay for themselves over time because they are so much more fuel efficient than traditional open fire cooking.
Women have told us the impact buying a stove has had on their lives – they’ve gone from spending 3-4 hours a day sourcing wood, down to twice a week, and cooking time has reduced by more than 30%. In urban areas, they are able to spend less of their small budgets on coal and other fuels. Some countries have created models where women sell the stoves to other women, creating even more jobs through local industry.
In India, in the Gujarat region, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has created a micro credit structure to help women buy their stoves. There is so much innovation happening by fostering local markets.
MMC: What are the aims of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves?
RM: We have a huge goal for 2020 -- to have 100 million clean cookstoves in the homes of our most vulnerable communities. That’s 100 million families who will have significantly improved health and less environmental damage. It’s an ambitious but achievable undertaking.
Secretary Hillary Clinton became passionate about this issue because of the homes she was invited into during her decades of global travel. When she became aware that cooking smoke is responsible for more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, she knew we had to act. Forming the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a key step in tackling this problem. The Alliance is growing all the time, and in fact last week, South Africa announced its commitment to the Alliance and has joined us in this huge effort.
MMC: What can we do?
RM: The very first thing we need to do is tell someone. Tell your neighbor, tell your friend that this problem exists. Take notice of what our supporters like Actress Julia Roberts and Chef José Andrés are saying. Visit us at http://cleancookstoves.org and sign up for our newsletter. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with new developments.
And the next time you prepare a meal for those you love, you can think about the fact that cooking shouldn’t kill.
Radha Muthiah is the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, where she leads efforts to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. She is the mother of two sons, ages 10 and 12.
Credit for photo of Sarah: Clean Cookstoves Alliance, Rodney Rascona.
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