Monday, December 17, 2012

Disease Report Adds New Urgency to Clean Cookstove Campaign

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 17 December 2012
Women and child around cookstove, one feeding wood into it (AP Images)
This Indian family is using a clean cookstove developed by Envirofit International. The manufacturer says it reduces emissions by 80 percent.

Washington — A campaign to introduce cleaner-burning cooking methods to billions of homes has gained a new level of urgency. A worldwide assessment of disease, incapacity and death finds that the number of people sickened by household air pollution (HAP) is double that projected by earlier estimates, from 2 million to approximately 4 million worldwide.

About 3 billion people worldwide burn fuels such as wood, dung or charcoal to cook daily meals. The smoke accumulating inside the homes introduces pollution and harmful emissions that contribute to lung cancer, respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease.

Recognition of this problem led to the 2010 creation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership dedicated to providing markets and means for developing-world households to make a transition to cleaner cooking methods.

“This shocking doubling of previous estimates of HAP-related mortality necessitates a redoubling of Alliance efforts to ensure that cooking a meal is a life-enriching, and not life-taking, activity for all people,” said Alliance Executive Director Radha Muthiah. “The Alliance will accelerate its work to increase the accessibility, affordability and eventual adoption of clean cookstoves and fuels."

The Global Burden of Disease 2010 study is a wide-ranging report involving close to 500 contributors in 50 nations. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington led the effort.

The research team focused on HAP concluded that this class of pollutants caused 3.5 million direct premature deaths in 2010, compared to 3.3 million for outdoor air pollution. Another 500,00 deaths, the researchers found, can be attributed to outdoor exposure to pollutants that originate with indoor household fires, what the researchers called "secondhand cook fire smoke."

“One of the most alarming findings is that smoke from cooking fires was found to be the largest environmental threat to health in the world today,” said Kirk R. Smith, a professor of global environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the section of the broad report focused on this issue.

Smith’s research indicates that 3.5 million adult men and women develop lung cancer, cardiovascular disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) after their exposure to open cook fires. About 500,000 children are also killed each year, mainly from pneumonia.

Many women in the developing world pay the consequences of polluting cook fires with their health, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has noted that their safety is also at risk. “In conflict zones like the Congo, the journeys that women must take to find scare fuel put them at increased risk of violent and sexual assault,” said Clinton when she first announced U.S. support for the cookstove alliance in September 2010. “Even in safer areas, every hour spent collecting fuel is an hour not spent in school or tending crops or running a business.”

The United States and some 50 other governments are partners in the Clean Cookstove Alliance. About 200 nongovernmental organizations and 100 private companies are also contributing to the international campaign to bring cleaner cooking technologies into billions of homes in the developing world.

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