The Worst Health Risk You’ve Never Heard of
For much of the developing world, preparing a meal is a one of the most dangerous activities a woman can undertake. She may spend half a day scavenging for fuel to build a fire. She must then spend hours tending the fire. Throughout the process, the home is filled with acrid, toxic smoke that irritates eyes and burns lungs.
Exposure to smoke from cooking over an open fire kills two million people each year. Young kids die from respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, while women die from chronic lung diseases such as emphysema. Many millions more will suffer from severe burns, impaired breathing, chronic cough, or even blindness. The economic impacts are also considerable – women and girls who cook on traditional fires spend up to three hours each day collecting fuel, time that could be much better spent on farming, starting a small enterprise, or going to school. In conflict zones, collecting fuel puts women and girls at risk of personal attack and rape. Cooking with wood also contributes to forest degradation, loss of wildlife habitat, and climate change. Open fire cooking accounts for over 20 percent of black carbon, one of the worst near-term contributors to climate change.