Snapshots of urban life

For something different I though I’d share a few photos of urban India, 2013.

I spent 24 hours passing through Delhi on my way from Orissa to Uttar Pradesh.

Across India trees are both protected and hunted. There is a growing movement to protect trees in urban areas as an anti-pollution measure. Delhi even has a Tree Ambulance that roams around helping trees (supposedly). However, deforestation still occurs across India as land is converted to farmland or used for mining and rural households search for firewood.   At the nice hotel where I stayed in Bhubaneswar I woke early one morning to see a poor woman cutting down one of the branches from a large tree in front of the hotel – she was there at the crack of dawn before the guards arrived.



AC units on a building in Delhi



A common scene – motorcycle parking lot. More and more vehicles “ply the roads” of India- many of them motorcycles.


This Jeremy Scott collection seems utterly out of place at the Delhi Adidas store. The idea of wealthy Indians in India wearing clothes styled after the totem poles build by pacific northwest Native American (“Indian”) cultures (like this and this) is so strange.



View of Connaught Place, Delhi, against the ever-polluted sky.


A relaxing dinner solo in Delhi at Sidewok.


Delhi now boasts a few Starbucks – a the only coffee shop in India I’m aware of where I can add soymilk to my drinks. It was mobbed… but a delightful treat for a vegan in a foreign land – and a very attractive place to rest and work, too.






Yesterday we came to Lucknow for meetings (a 1.5 hour drive from the TERI guest house and office in rural Uttar Pradesh). Here’s a classic view of a cow walking though a very busy urban street. These cows generally survive by eating trash left on the street. I find this to be a ridiculous double standard for a culture that believes the cow to be a very sacred creature.



And finally, a reminder of home – Durham, NC


Why am I in India?

I just realized I’ve been in India for almost a month now – this means I’m terribly over due to start posting. I suspect most blog readers are familiar with my work in India, but I thought the best place to start would be with a summary of what I’m doing here, and why (for a brief overview, see the conundrum).

About 40% of the global population still cooks using solid fuel (such as wood or dung cakes or residue from agricultural crops) in traditional stoves. These stoves burn very inefficiently, and are often used in rooms with little or no ventilation, which means that the women and children who usually do the cooking are exposed to very high concentrations of household air pollution (HAP). The World Health Organization’s most recent Global Burden of Disease report ranks household air pollution as the 4th greatest global health risk factor contributing to illness and death – about 3.5 million premature deaths per year. This is a huge problem – and responsible for more illness across the world than most people realize. I’ve asked a lot of people what the consider the first, second, and third greatest health risks across the globe, and no one has accurately named them.



(Lim et al, 2012)


The health risk is mostly due to cardiovascular disease and lower respiratory infections (pneumonia). In addition to adverse health impacts, traditional cooking practices (cooking itself, as well as gathering and preparing fuel) take time that could be used for earning household income, and can often expose women and children to risk. Reliance on fuelwood leads to deforestation and degradation of local forest resources (Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves). The mixture of pollutants is not only harmful for health but also has negative climate impacts as well – mainly through emissions of black carbon, the second most potent greenhouse pollutant (Ramanathan and Carmichael, 2008).

Many improved cookstoves have been designed in an attempt to address these adverse health, livelihood, and environmental impacts. However, households are often not interested in the technology for many reasons – it may be too expensive, culturally inappropriate (i.e. they cannot cook their customary foods), or not something they are interested in, particularly if they do not understand the adverse impacts of their traditional cooking. This lack of understanding is widespread- and it is understandable — if your family has been cooking this way for generations and you haven’t observed negative impacts, it is hard to understand what all the fuss is about. 

My research focuses on the intersection between household behavior (households stove and fuel choice), household air pollution (measuring levels of emissions), and health and livelihood impacts. On this trip to India, I will be working with our Indian partners to launch several pilots to study mechanisms for encouraging households to adopt (and continue to use) improved stoves.


Here is an example of a woman cooking on a traditional mud stove in Orissa, India. I visited this household about two weeks ago. She is cooking in the kitchen (not all homes have a separate room for the kitchen) and using wood and dung cakes in her stove. There is a small opening cut into the ceiling for smoke to escape, and a piece of pipe acting as a chimney to capture some rising smoke. However, the room was very smoky.


In addition to their traditional stove, this household also has a double-burner LPG stove (that burns liquid petroleum gas). The LPG stove was just around he corner but sat unused while the woman roasted grains over her traditional stove. She prefers to use her traditional stove because she felt it provided a hotter flame that made the cooking go faster. She kept the LPG stove to use for smaller cooking jobs like tea. There is also an issue with getting LGP cylinders – hers is from the black market, since getting official LPG connections can take a very long time (sometimes up to a year).




I visited several villages in Orissa with one of the Principle Investigators for our cookstove study in Orissa, John.


In my first two weeks in India we also took an afternoon to explore a nearby temple in Orissa – the Konark Temple dedicated to the sun god. The temple was built in the 13th century. John and I hired a tour guide who was comical but excellent. This was my second visit to the temple and I learned a lot more on this trip.


After the temple visit, we went to the ancient Khandagiri caves carved into a hillside for Jain monks. The cave below is carved into the shape of a tiger’s open mouth.


It was scorching outside but under cover of the incredible Hat I climbed to the top of the hill to survey the view of Bhubaneswar below.



I welcome all requests / suggestions for future blog posts!