Cooking Fuels in Poor Countries

HEALTH DAMAGE FROM COOKING FUELS WIDELY USED IN LOW-INCOME COUNTRIES

Cooking using solid fuels such as firewood, coal and dung cakes is severely damaging to people’s lung capacity and respiratory health, according to research in Indonesia by Ani Rudra Silwal and Andy McKay. Their study, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference, also finds that men suffer more than women even though the former tend not to do the cooking. This may be because they don’t learn how to avoid breathing in the fumes.

The researchers also look at how lung capacity changes as households switch to cleaner fuels. Finding that switching to cleaner fuels is associated with significant improvements in lung capacity, they conclude:

‘Switching to cleaner cooking fuels such as kerosene or liquefied petroleum gas will have a positive impact on respiratory health. This does not have to take the form of the cook stoves now being distributed in many countries.’

The study explores the effect of solid fuels on health by looking at data on lung capacity carefully measured using a peak flow meter as part of the Indonesia Family Life Survey. Controlling for other factors, including smoking, and also controlling for the fact that those using solid fuels are not a random sample, the analysis shows that those living in households that cook with a solid fuel have significantly lower lung capacity than those that do not.

Surprisingly, the effect is larger for men than for women, despite the fact that in almost all households it is the women who do the cooking. The authors suggest that this may be because women are forced to adjust to the smoke whereas the men are not.

A large majority of people living in low-income countries do their cooking using solid fuels, especially firewood and charcoal as well as other forms, such as dung cakes and crop residues. This finding provides further support for the movement to reduce reliance on solid fuels as monitored by the Millennium Development Goals.

More…

Around three billion people worldwide and a large majority of the population living in low-income countries do their cooking using solid fuels, especially firewood and charcoal as well as other forms such as dung cakes or crop residues.

This study asks whether this form of cooking, through the smoke it creates, could have an adverse impact on health, and then asks whether policy actions to encourage households to switch to cleaner fuels are justified (such as high profile campaigns to promote cook stoves). Reducing reliance on solid fuels is also an indicator monitored as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

The most direct impact of smoke from solid fuels is likely to be on respiratory health, and the researchers are able to use direct measures of lung capacity of individuals in Indonesia carefully measured using a peak flow meter as part of the Indonesia Family Life Survey panel data set. This is much preferable to the data used in the few existing studies of this issue.

This study looks at the impact of using solid fuels for cooking on an individual’s lung capacity, controlling for other factors (including smoking) and also controlling for the fact that those using solid fuels are not a random sample. The analysis shows that those living in households that cook with a solid fuel have significantly lower lung capacity than those that do not (and smoking also has the expected adverse impact).

When estimating the model separately for men and women, the results show that it is in fact for men rather than women that the effect is statistically significant and larger, despite the fact that in almost all households it is the women who do the cooking! This is consistent with evidence from other studies, which shows that those who are more affected often make behavioural adjustments to lessen the impact of the smoke. The same may apply here.

Subsequently, the researchers analyse how lung capacity changes as households switch to cleaner fuels between one wave of the panel data set and another. Switches to cleaner fuels are associated with significant improvements in lung capacity. The opposite applies for moves to less clean fuels.

This suggests that switching to cleaner cooking fuels, such as kerosene or liquefied petroleum gas, will have a positive impact on respiratory health, though this does not have to take the form of the cook stoves now being distributed in many countries.

ENDS


Contact:

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095
romesh@vaitilingam.com
@econromesh

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