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Indoor air pollution, the cause of more than 2 million deaths a year in developing countries, could be significantly reduced by simple, low-technology measures such as installing smoke hoods over open cooking fires, according to a study released in London last week.
woman and child by hood
About 80 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa burn wood, dung and crop residues for cooking, often in unventilated kitchen areas. As a result, women and children, who often spend hours in smoky kitchens, are more likely to develop serious health problems, including pneumonia and chronic lung disease.

But the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) — an international nongovernmental organisation — found in a study in two rural Kenyan communities that simple measures, such as creating windows and eave spaces and removing smoke by installing a hood and chimney over cooking areas, can cut respirable particles by up to 75 per cent, and carbon monoxide by up to 77 per cent.

Such reductions, according to the group, should cut health problems caused by inhaling smoke, as well as increasing people’s comfort and quality of life.

“It’s a very simple idea but it makes a big difference to people’s lives,” says Hellen Owalla from ITDG East Africa.

Before the preventive measures were taken, levels of smoke particles in the rural homes studied were often more than 100 times greater than the acceptable level of 50 micrograms of smoke particles per cubic metre suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Hellen calibrating hood
The project, funded by Glaxo-Wellcome and others, involved 50 rural households in Western Kenya and in a Massai community in Kajiado. The involvement of the community at every step was central to the ethos of the project and, says ITDG, key to its success.

“The technologies used in the project were not the starting point of the work, but rather, they have come out of discussions with members of those communities about how they feel their needs can best be met,” says Liz Bates, ITDG’s smoke and health project co-ordinator.

ITDG helped to meet the costs of adapting cooking areas during the study, but the organisation is now looking at sustainable ways of increasing the accessibility of smoke hoods in other areas of Kenya.

“A stove hood costs two goats or around 5,000 Kenyan shillings — that’s the equivalent of anything between £30 and £50,” says Owalla. “But although that sounds very expensive in terms of money, people can afford it with what they already own, such as goats.”

ITDG is also starting new projects to instigate similar work to reduce indoor air pollution in urban Kenya, Sudan and Nepal.

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