Cooking smoke: a silent killer

Photo credit: © Lana Wong/Panos Pictures

This young Turkana girl, cooking fish using palm leaves for fire wookd in Kalokol, Kenya, is one of some 2,500 million people in the world who are exposed to excessive levels of indoor air pollution.

Burning wood, stubble, dung, grass or coal on open fires, or in inefficient stoves, in poorly ventilated kitchens, is the main cause of this. The result is a toll of death and ill health far greater than that caused by the better-publicised outdoor pollution.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cooking smoke kills nearly two million people each year in the villages of the Third World, with a further 450,000 deaths attributed to indoor air pollution in towns and cities. Rural homes in Africa and India have the worst record for 'suspended particulate matter'.

A lot of work has gone into developing simple 'smokeless stoves', which have been shown to reduce acute respiratory infection and conjunctivitis in households, but persuading people to use them is another matter.

"The first step" says Dietrich Schwela of WHO, "is probably to persuade the millions exposed to biomass smoke that it does actually pose a health hazard."

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