I’ve titled this blog “India’s Cookstove Conundrum.” Why?
3 Billion people, or about 45% of people currently living on earth, rely on solid fuel for their cooking and eating. These solid fuels are typically wood, residues from their agricultural crops, patties made from cow or buffalo dung and straw, charcoal, or coal. These fuels are generally cooked indoors in a traditional cookstove (without a chimney), and in poorly ventilated houses.
Why is this important? The indoor air pollution generated by these fuels cooked in these cookstoves is the largest environmental cause of death – killing two million people (mostly women and children) per year, with most of the deaths attributable to respiratory infections (pneumonia), as well as pulmonary disease. This chilling estimate does not take into account deaths from cardiovascular disease, which are also significant. In addition to direct health impacts, cooking on the stoves and gathering/preparing fuel requires time – time that could otherwise be spend on education or other income producing activities.
In addition to harmful direct effects on health, solid fuel combustion in these inefficient stoves releases very large amounts of black carbon, an extremely potent greenhouse pollutant.
Imagine a house like this:
And a stove like this:
Tended by a woman or child:
To combat this problem, organizations like the recently formed Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), as well as India’s Biomass Cookstove Initiative, seek to distribute improved cookstoves (such as the one to the left). The improved stoves have increased efficiency, which results in reduced fuel requirements, a decrease in adverse health, livelihood, and environmental impacts…
Only if people use them, correctly.
And therein lies the conundrum. Most improved cookstove programs have run into challenges of adoption and implementation. There are many reasons people don’t want to use them – inability to afford the stove, failure to understand the benefits, cultural cooking methods, among others…. Our research seeks to explore and quantify the barriers to adoption and correct use, so that future cookstove dissemination programs can deliver all of the stoves’ potential benefits.
Curious about this conundrum, and what it is like to research it in the field? Read on…