Counting the Cost of Household Air Pollution

Rhiannon Szmigielski, ClimateCare

A new OECD study released this week estimates that the economic cost for Africa of premature deaths caused by indoor air pollution is around $230 billion every year[i]. This research adds to a growing mountain of evidence, strengthening the case for immediate action to tackle Household Air Pollution on health, economic and environmental grounds.

Caused by the use of fuels like kerosene, wood and charcoal for lighting and cooking, household air pollution kills 4.3 million people around the world every year, more than malaria and tuberculosis combined, and leads to sickness for tens of millions more.[ii]

For example, a traditional wood fired stove emits carbon monoxide and toxic fumes up to 100 times higher than WHO recommended limits. Exposure causes cataracts and is a leading cause of blindness in developing countries. And in under 5’s the effects are deadly – nearly half the deaths from pneumonia in this age group can be attributed to smoke exposure.

Yet there is a simple solution.

These illnesses could be readily reduced or even prevented with the adoption of clean and efficient cooking and lighting solutions.

Improved cookstoves and solar lighting not only reduce toxic fumes, they are safer, more convenient, and they save families significant money on fuel bills.

In addition, these solutions are good for us all. They cut carbon, helping tackle climate change and prevent deforestation by reducing demand for wood fuel.

So what is stopping the widespread adoption of these technologies that can change lives? It’s not lack of knowledge. There are a wide range of global initiatives from the UN Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to the Power or All campaign, promoting the case for action, but still, deaths from household air pollution continue to increase.

“Lack of access to quality, affordable products is one reason” says Tom Morton, Director of ClimateCare in Nairobi. “Affordability is the other key factor. With many households surviving on less than $2 / day[iii], spending the equivalent of 20 days’ salary on a new cookstove or solar lighting system can be impossible, even if the return on the investment makes it a sound economic decision in the longer term.”

This is where ClimateCare and its partners are moving the goal posts. Working with Government and Corporate partners, it is providing fair finance packages, making it possible for some of the poorest and hardest to reach communities in East Africa to purchase the life changing goods and services they need.

This is not only improving life for millions of families across East Africa, it is cutting CO2 and creating a sustainable business model that can roll out across the developing world.

Case study: Winnie Njorage

winnie“I am so happy about the Jikokoa stove because it burns cleanly. This stove keeps the house clean because it has an ashtray that collects all the ash.

Before I got this stove, I used to use four 20-litre containers of charcoal, but nowadays, I only use two. I use the savings from fuel to do other projects.

The stove also cooks very fast, for instance, githeri cooks in an hour. (Normally this mixture of beans and maize takes 3 hours to cook on a traditional charcoal stove). I no longer use the old stove because it makes my house dirty with the ash.

The stove has no smoke and I do not have to worry about my kids getting sick. It is very safe for my kids. I do not have to worry about their safety. I did not pay for the stove at once, I first made a down payment and then paid the rest in two monthly instalments deducted from the payroll. What I would like to tell those who do not have the stove is that they should get it because it is the best.”

Find out more about ClimateCare’s approach to tackling Indoor Air Pollution and other Climate and Development challenges at www.climatecare.org

[i] OECD Development Centre: Working Paper No. 333. The cost of air pollution in Africa

[ii] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves http://cleancookstoves.org/impact-areas/health/

[iii] https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6_XyTpgvEzrX2dfUmo5d3ZwcGM/view