Death by dirty cooking

(Eco Business, 6 Nov 2019) Exposure to household air pollution kills 4.3 million people a year, more than HIV and AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Yet, the world hasn’t delivered clean cooking solutions.

Each year, exposure to household air pollution (HAP) kills 4.3 million people – more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. HAP is produced when households use antiquated fuels – such as firewood, coal, crop waste, and kerosene – for cooking and heating, so ending HAP-related deaths is as straightforward as delivering clean-cooking solutions.

Yet the world hasn’t done it. Across Africa, for example, over 80 per cent of people still rely on biomass as their primary source of energy. In my home country, Sierra Leone (one of the five most vulnerable countries to climate change), less than 20 per cent of the population has electricity, while over 90 per cent rely on charcoal and firewood for cooking. If current trends hold, Africans will still be using such fuels to cook in 2050.

It would cost an estimated $4.4 billion annually to meet the world’s residential clean-cooking needs – far more than what is currently available. While that figure is not small, it is dwarfed by the costs of inaction. Beyond its devastating effects on human health – HAP is the second-largest risk factor for death and disability in Sub-Saharan Africa – reliance on non-renewable wood fuels for cooking contributes up to one gigaton of CO2 emissions annually, or about 2 per cent of total emissions.

Moreover, such cooking methods are a major source of black carbon, the second-biggest driver of climate change after CO2: solid-fuel cooking in Sub-Saharan Africa alone accounts for some 6 per cent of global black carbon emissions. Compounding the effect on climate, up to 34 per cent of wood fuel in Sub-Saharan Africa is harvested unsustainably, contributing to deforestation.

The persistence of outmoded cooking and heating methods amounts to a major drain on economies. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 3 per cent of GDP is lost annually as a result of increased mortality and morbidity from HAP, avoidable spending on solid fuels, time wasted collecting firewood, and environmental damage. Women and children suffer the most.

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Eco Business, 6 Nov 2019: Death by dirty cooking