UN Foundation President Tim Wirth has an item in the Huffington Post for World Health Day yesterday about the harmful effects of traditional cookstoves.
Today, nearly half the world’s population — close to 3 billion people — will eat meals cooked over fires that use charcoal, wood, or even animal waste for fuel. A year from now, 1.9 million of those people will be dead. Their death certificates will cite pneumonia, lung cancer or tuberculosis, but the underlying cause is exposure to cooking smoke. Women and girls in developing countries, who spend several hours a day cooking meals over open flames or on smoky cookstoves, are disproportionately vulnerable. Smoke inhalation causes these women and children to suffer serious, often fatal illnesses, including respiratory infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.
The collective impacts are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, unsafe cooking conditions are the fourth greatest threat to health in developing countries, claiming twice as many lives each year as malaria. The needed resources cannot be mobilized to confront this crisis if the world community doesn’t recognize it as such. As we mark World Health Day, it is imperative that a flag of awareness be planted.
Most people who live in affluent countries simply flip a switch or turn a knob to prepare a meal, and any smoke created is whisked away by fans and ventilation systems. Not so in the developing world. The cost of a “clean” cookstove can be a significant obstacle for people who live on $2 or less a day.