Cleaner Hearths, Better Homes
For people in developed countries, burning fuelwood in an open hearth evokes nostalgia and romance. But in developing countries, the harsh reality is that several billion people, mainly women and children, face long hours collecting fuelwood, which is burned inefficiently in traditional biomass stoves. Th e smoke emitted into their homes exposes them to pollution levels 10–20 times higher than the maximum standards considered safe in developed countries. And the problem is not out of the ordinary. The majority of people in developing countries at present cannot aff ord the transition to modern fuels. Today, close to one half of the world’s people still depend on biomass energy to meet their cooking and heating needs.
To be sure, the term ‘hearth’ in developed countries connotes feelings of
warmth and closeness of families. In fact, many people in developed countries still use firewood for ambiance and to heat their living rooms or even entire homes, sometimes in state-of-the-art, high-efficiency stoves. In the developed world, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are tested and approved by various agencies responsible for ensuring that appliances meet strict safety standards. Even before the twentieth-century transition from coal-burning and biomass stoves to gas and electricity, public agencies in developed countries often insisted on major retrofits for original cooking and heating systems to meet fire and pollution codes. The implication for developing countries is that, even without making a complete transition to electricity, kerosene, or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or other various types of cooking gases, there are intermediate options for eliminating human drudgery and indoor air pollution.