AsiaCalling

Replacing India's Deadly Stoves

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Cooking a lentil curry in rural India is deadly work.

Indoor air pollution from the use of traditional stoves leads to the deaths of almost 500,000 Indians each year.

When the stove is lit a toxic blend of smoke and gases are released into the home.

The exposure leads to lung cancer, pneumonia and low birth weight.  

It's not just a problem in India, half of the world burn biomass fuels like wood, dung and crop waste when they cook.

The fumes are not only lethal but they also contribute to climate change.   

Envirofit is an organisation, which claims it has a solution.

They are selling an alternative stove to India's rural poor, which they say can save lives and minimise the environmental impact of cooking.

Michael Atkin went to the village of Keerhukara in the south Indian state of Kerala for Asia Calling.

 

I'm standing in Gopala Krishnan's kitchen and in front of me is a traditional chulha stove.

It has three stone blocks to place pots on with firewood is inserted underneath. His wife Ammukutty lights the stove and uses a thin blow pipe to fan the flames.

Above the stove is a chimney but despite its presence, a thick cloud of smoke is starting to gather. Heavy black soot marks the kitchen's walls and pots and pans.  

The World Health Organisation says indoor air pollution is the third greatest health risk to an Indian's after malnutrition and lack of safe sanitation and drinking water.

Until recently, Ammukkutty had been cooking in discomfort for three hours every day.

"It was a messy affair with smoke everywhere and uncomfortable to be here and cook the daily requirements of my family but now it is very comfortable and I am quite happy."

That's because a month ago, the family purchased an Envirofit stove.

At a cost of 33 US dollars, it was an expensive purchase for Gopala Krishnan who runs a barber shop. But he is hoping it is a worthwhile investment.

Envirofit claims their cooker can reduce emissions by 80 percent, use 60 percent less fuel and speed up cooking time by 50 percent.

Developed by engineers at Colorado State University, the cookers main feature is a combustion chamber that prevents hot air from escaping and reduces smoke.

When Ammukkutty lights the stove, the difference is obvious. A thin layer of smoke still rises but visibility is much higher.

"It does not give off much smoke and the emission is very negligable and the wood is very much less with this stove compared to the chulhas. The food is pretty tasty because there is no smoke getting into the food."  

The family is now saving US $5 per month on firewood, a significant amount of their income.

Ammukkutty jokes that she has started pressuring her husband to buy another stove.

Envirofit relies largely on word of mouth and public demonstrations to reach India's villages. The country's diversity in language and culture makes it difficult to reach people with advertising.

With me in the house is G D Adappa, the General Manager of India Operations. He travels around five states trying to convince people to buy the stove.

One of Adappa's main selling points is the health benefits.

"You have seen the wall is completely dark and it is black. Now if you imagine a situation where the housewife cooks in that kind of atmosphere day in and day out practically it means that she is exposing herself to the smoke and inhaling it. This is the equivalent to smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes in a day."

But convincing people hasn't been easy. Since November 2007 they have sold 110,000 stoves, well short of their ambitious goal of 10 million in five different countries in five years.  

One problem Adappa has found is people don't see a new stove as a priority.

"They are not really much bothered about the health concerns because they are not getting affected immediately. It is an age old habit so it is not a question of just going and telling someone about the product's benefits. It is going to take a lot of time. Their first priority is to have something connected with entertainment, obviously the TV."  

We drive along a dusty road to another village called Kurichimuttom.

Most houses are modest dwellings with one bedroom, dirt floors and no running water. The yards are filled with piles of tree branches, which have been cut down for fire wood.

In one of the houses Vijayamma is trying to cope, cooking with a chulha and occasionally a gas stove. She says using the chula can be unpleasant but she doesn't believe it has affected her health. For now she will make do.

"My family members, mainly my son says, 'Why don't you buy that stove?' but I say, 'Don't worry, let's not spend that kind of money on a stove right now because I am managing. We have no problems.' The buying decision has got postponed."

Envirofit India is yet to make a profit and has relied on US 10 million dollars in funding from the Shell Foundation, a charity established by the oil multinational Shell.

Shell has recently been criticized by the non-government corruption watchdog, Corpwatch of Greenwashing, using products and policies to claim it is environmentally friendly while continuing to cause significant pollution.

G. D. Adappa, General Manager of India Operations at Envirofit has no doubt that the Shell Foundation is doing the right thing.

"The indoor air pollution is one of the major pollutants in the world, it can be even larger than the pollution caused by vehicular emissions mainly because the number of chulhas is much much higher than the number of vehicles. I think Shell Foundation is very, very right in taking on this project to counter the bad effects of oil."

Previous attempts by the Indian government and the private sector have failed to curb the widespread use of traditional stoves.

Envirofit has approached the Indian Central government about providing a subsidy to reduce the consumer price of their clean stove. They are waiting for a response.

Envirofit argue the use of traditional stoves in not only detrimental to people's health but it has also been linked to climate change.

The soot released by the chulha, called Black carbon aerosols has been linked to declining snow and ice cover in the Himalayas.  

Here in Kerrhukara village it comes down to whether a clean stove can trump the appeal of a new colour TV.


সর্বশেষ আপডেট ( সোমবার, 22 মার্চ 2010 10:22 )  

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