Dhaka Tribune: Cooking Shouldn’t Kill
Healthy living depends not only on just healthy eating, but also healthy cooking.
Food and cooking are essential parts of all our lives – we either “eat to live” or “live to eat”. We talk about nutrition, calorie count, and what makes a proper diet, but one of the most significant, yet least talked about food-related issues impacting the health of millions of Bangladeshis each day is the way we cook.
Nearly nine out of ten people in Bangladesh still rely on solid fuels such as wood, dung and crop waste for cooking. Burning these fuels in traditional stoves or chullas can release up to 400 cigarettes per hour worth of smoke. The resulting household air pollution is responsible for close to 80,000 premature deaths in Bangladesh every year, most of them children and women. Beyond the enormous health toll, this method of meal preparation carries a large ecological burden; the burning of solid fuels accounts for a significant portion of short-lived climate pollutants, including up to 25% of the world's black carbon emissions. The country’s rapidly expanding population and heavy reliance on biomass is also putting significant pressure on limited forest resources.
The good news is that a clean cooking movement is gaining ground. Thanks to broader awareness, changing behaviours, advances in cookstove design and availability, and development of standards and testing, thousands of people are adopting cleaner, more efficient cookstoves and fuels. These stoves can significantly reduce smoke emissions and improve efficiency of fuel use, reducing the amount of fuel needed to cook and significantly improving the air quality for families using the cleaner stoves and fuels.
Yet, while momentum is building, diseases caused by smoke from rudimentary cookstoves still claim far too many lives and cause widespread environmental damage. More must be done to spur innovation, increase investment, and change dangerous behaviours that have been part of our culture for centuries.
Cooking is a duty that falls almost exclusively to women, who are also responsible for gathering fuel to cook, a task that occupies significant time in their daily routine and places the women and accompanying children at considerable personal risk, if they must walk kilometres from their villages to gather fuel. Because of their role in cooking and fuel gathering, women are at the centre of this global health issue. On average, women spend approximately 374 hours every year collecting firewood in countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Use of cleaner, more efficient stoves that burn less fuel and cook food more quickly can free up women to spend more time to receive an education or develop an alternative livelihood.
Fortunately, there are development organizations working on this issue across Bangladesh, including The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative hosted by the United Nations Foundation. The Alliance and its many partners working in Bangladesh helped facilitate the development of the Country Action Plan, which was approved by the government in 2013 and has recently signed a Memorandum of understanding with SREDA, the Power Division under the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources. The government has a vision of smoke free kitchens in Bangladesh by 2030. The Alliance, in partnership with the government, development organizations and key stakeholders, is working to facilitate the adoption of 5 million cookstoves across the country by 2017.
This article was originaly published in the Dhaka Tribune: