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Stove fumes as big a killer as AIDS

Stove fumes as big a killer as AIDS

Some 400,000 Indians die each year due to the toxic fumes from kitchen stoves that use firewood or biomass.

New Delhi: Some 400,000 Indians die each year due to the toxic fumes from kitchen stoves that use firewood or biomass like cow-dung. A British NGO has now joined forces to stop this hazard by introducing improved stoves or "chulhas" in India.

These stoves also use firewood, cow-dung and other biomass like the traditional chulhas, but they emit less fumes and use lesser fuel, ideal for people who cannot afford fuels like LPG or biogas.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 1.5 to 2 million people worldwide die prematurely in poorly ventilated homes each year from stove fumes that cause pneumonia, chronic respiratory and heart diseases, low birth weight and even tuberculosis. Of these, some 400,000 people die in India alone. In comparison, malaria kills about one million people and AIDS 1.7 to 2.4 million.

The Shell Foundation plans to promote clean stoves in India through "a market-based approach with private sector participation, focusing on availability, affordability, accessibility and accountability".

It is collaborating with stove manufacturers and microfinance institutions in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to promote the improved kitchen stoves.

"Given that firewood will continue to be used in most rural households, it is now largely accepted that the most effective way to reduce smoke is through improved stoves," Anuradha Bhavnani, regional director of Shell Foundation, told IANS.

"This is why building better stoves and finding a way to persuade the poor to use them has become a priority," she added.

"An open fire, burning wood or dung, can on average produce as much carbon dioxide as a car - and a great deal more of black carbon (or soot), a substance whose warming effect is 700x higher than carbon dioxide," Bhavnani pointed out.

Over the past one year, the foundation has tested several strategies in collaboration with the Anganwadi workers, stove manufacturers and microfinance institutions.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, a global group of energy and petrochemicals companies and founder of the Shell Foundation, has pledged USD 6 million to the newly launched UN-led Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent deaths caused by the smoke from cooking stoves.

"The alliance has raised USD 64 million so far from organizations like Morgan Stanley, UNF, SF, Shell the company and several governments, including Norway and the US," said Simon Bishop, head of the Room to Breathe initiative of the foundation. It is aiming to be a USD 250 million public-private partnership, he said.

"To create a global market for clean cookstoves, there needs to be direct support for the stoves market, indirect research on health, climate change, materials and other areas, and a general increase in awareness and knowledge about the issue and the sector," he said.

The GACC, launched by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting Sep 21, aims to cover 100 million homes, roughly 20 percent of the affected population worldwide, to have efficient cookstoves by 2020.

"The existing clean cookstove manufacturers are selling stoves daily, which contribute to more homes using stoves but as we only launched a few weeks ago, we have yet to calculate exact figures, Bishop told IANS.

first published:December 17, 2010, 14:59 IST