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  • Study investigates household choices on improved cookstoves

[PESHAWAR/NEW DELHI] Programmes to provide rural Pakistani households with so-called improved cookstoves have had a muted response due to a lack of awareness among target communities — particularly among the women who do the cooking, a study has found.

The finding comes as separate research suggests that some improved cookstove models actually cause more pollution than traditional mud stoves.

Traditional stoves — which run on biomass such as crop waste, dung and twigs — are known to cause indoor air pollution. Indoor and outdoor air pollution have been identified by the WHO has causing an estimated two million deaths each year.

Since the 1970s there has been a concerted international effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organisations to produce and distribute so-called 'improved cookstoves' that are more efficient and release less smoke.

But in Pakistan, the stoves have not been adopted as quickly as had been hoped, according to Inayatullah Jan of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Agricultural University in Peshawar.

Jan led a study in rural northwest Pakistan, which found only one in five households sampled had chosen to use an improved cookstove.

The low uptake, Jan told SciDev.Net, was due to a range of factors, including poor awareness of the health risks and environmental impact of traditional stoves; low education levels among household members, particularly women; a lack of authority among women to make decisions on cookstove adoption; and low incomes.

The study, in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review (February 2012), also noted a lack of funding to finance improved cookstove programmes, and poor monitoring of long-term stove usage.

Mukhtiar Zaman Afridi, head of the pulmonary deparment at Khyber Teaching Hospital in Peshawar, says he has seen rising levels of lung problems such as asthma, especially in women and children from houses where a single room is used for cooking and sleeping.

Jan told SciDev.Net that stove uptake could be boosted by a government campaign to provide the stoves at subsidised rates, and also by demonstrating their use to women.

However in neighbouring India, a study in the north of the country suggests not all improved cookstoves are equal.

The study, published in Environment Science and Technology in February 2012, compared five commercial brands of improved stoves with traditional mud stoves, measuring the gases and particles emitted while they were being used by volunteer village cooks.

The team, led by Abhishek Kar of the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi, found that brands of improved cookstoves that had a battery-powered fan at the bottom of the cooking chamber emitted less soot than those that relied on natural airflow.

The authors commented that at times, the natural airflow improved cookstoves "perform[ed] even worse than a traditional mud cookstove".

The researchers say their findings are evidence for greater caution in making assumptions about 'improved' cooking stoves, and for clearer terminology to differentiate between models.

In February this year, a high-level meeting on improved cookstoves at the Hague issued a draft International Workshop Agreement calling for global standardisation and certification protocols for clean and efficient cookstoves.

The final agreement is expected to be published by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) later this year.

Link to abstract in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review

Link to abstract in Environment Science and Technology

References

Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review doi 10.1016/j.rser.2012.02.038 (2012)
Environ. Sci. Technol doi 10.1021/es203388g (2012)

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