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Cooking smoke: a pervasive killer in developing countries.
WIN News01/01/98
v24:n1. p21(1)

PEOPLE & the PLANET, 1 Woburn Walk, London WCIH 0JJ, UNITED KINGDOM. Vol.6, No.3.

"Billions of dollars have been spent on research into the harmful effects of cigarette smoke and outdoor air pollution. . . Comparatively little has been done to protect human health from indoor air pollution. Wood, stubble, dung and grass are used daily in about half of the world's households as energy for cooking and heating. In most parts of the Third World they are burnt in open fires or inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated kitchens. The result is a toll in death and iii health far greater than the more often discussed outdoor air pollution.

Biomass smoke contains many harmful constituents such as respirable particulates and carbon monoxide, exposure to which can cause or contribute to acute respiratory infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, lower birth weights, cataract, and nervous and muscular fatigue.

Smoke, especially coal smoke, also contains sulphur and nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons which can lead to cancer. Women and children are most exposed to high levels of harmful smoke and suffer the most serious health damage; respiratory infections alone cause between 4 and 5 million deaths per year among small children, which is equal to or marginally less than deaths from diarrhoeal diseases. . .Some 1.9 million additional deaths each year are blamed on rural indoor pollution through suspended particulate matter and another 450,000 deaths are attributed to urban indoor air pollution. . .African countries and India have the worst record. . . in rural homes, while Latin America, India and China are worst. . . in urban interiors. . . For example, several studies in China found that smoke was a strong risk factor for lung cancer among nonsmoking women, while another study in Japan has related lung cancer to the past use of biofuels in cooking.

In Gambia it was found that girls aged under five carried on their mother's back during cooking (in smoky cooking huts) had a six times higher risk - a substantially higher risk factor than if their parents smoked.

SMOKELESS STOVES

Unfortunately, while the health problems are all too clear, the solutions are as many as grains of sand in the desert. The issues involved are culturally diverse since they relate to such basic traditional patterns as how people live and cook and eat. The literature abounds with designs for 'simple' smokeless stoves or 'elementary' chimneys, hoods and smoke removal appliances. But persuading people to build, install, maintain and use such devices en masse is a thorny issue; indeed the first step is probably to persuade the millions exposed to biomass smoke that it does actually pose health hazard. . ."