Killer in the kitchen case studies
How household smoke affects lives in Nepal
In rural Nepal, many people have to burn wood, dung and coal for cooking, boiling water and heating
Burning these fuels on basic stoves or three-stone fires release lethal fumes.
But women need to feed their families and keep warm – and they can’t get cleaner fuels like electricity or gas. It is their only choice.
We want to help families like these in Nepal to get clean cookstoves and smoke hoods, to reduce smoke and save lives.
In the first few days of her baby’s life, Kumari Kumal had to watch helplessly as her newborn began to cough and couldn’t stop. She was frantic with worry and knew something was very wrong.
27-year-old Kumari took her son Rajan (pictured right) to hospital, where the doctor confirmed he was desperately ill; he had pneumonia. She was terrified he would die. He was just six years old.
The traditional stove in her home in Dhading, used to cook daily family meals, had been silently filling Rajan’s lungs with deadly smoke.
More than half of childhood deaths from pneumonia worldwide are caused by smoke – household air pollution.
Luckily Rajan survived. He is now eight, but the problem has not gone away. The stove is the only way that Kumari can feed her family of five and keep them warm.
“I worry about my children,” she said. “They always come near the fire because they want to be near me and my mother-in-law has asthma and has asthma medication every week.”
Kumari also suffers from eye problems and spends much of her small income from farming, on medication to treat her condition.
“I get blurred vision and I sometimes get chest pain and cough,” she said. “My doctor told me that I had to stay away from smoke. My eyes get worse when I’m near the fire. It costs me 300 NR for the medication and I have to get it every 2-3 weeks.”
Bimala, aged 51, lives with 10 members of her family: her husband, three sons, one daughter, two granddaughters and one grandson. She cooks all the meals for her family on a simple three stone stove. But this stove was filling their home with toxic smoke – exposing them all to lethal respiratory illnesses – so she has been forced to cook outside all year round, in the rain and freezing temperatures.
“Everything was black; it was so smoky and we couldn’t sit in the house,” she said.” I have breathing problems and problems with my eyes. We used to take our granddaughter to the doctor’s sometimes because she used to cough.
“During the monsoon season, this makes it very difficult to prepare dinner for the family. “Sometimes I have to cook with an umbrella, it’s difficult but I have to prepare the meal. Sometimes the food is half cooked.”
Bimala’s granddaughter, Rijan, wishes they could have a smoke hood. “I have seen a smoke hood at my friend’s house. I would love to have one. It would be less smoky and I would be able to study better.”
21-year-old Pushpati and her husband live with his family in a small house in a village on the outskirts of Dhading Desi city in the Dhading District of Nepal, where she uses a traditional stove to cook their meals.
They are recently married and are hoping to have children soon. However, money is tight and much of it goes on firewood to heat and light their home and to cook with, unless she collects the wood herself.
“It costs 500 NR for a stack of wood and it lasts for three days. Otherwise I have to walk three hours to collect wood and because now the trees are protected it’s even harder to get wood. It also takes me two hours to cook each meal.
“The smoke is the worst thing. I do worry about my eyes but I need to cook for my family, what else can I do?”
With a smoke hood and improved stove, Pashupati wouldn’t have to spend so long cooking meals and with the extra time she could be able to do other things. When asked what she would do with the extra time, she said: “I would spend this extra time working on the farm. We rely on farming and could make more money and I could help my husband. I wouldn’t have to be next to the fire for as long and when I have children, we would have more money to be able to send them to school.”
How smoke hoods transform lives
In Nepal we are helping families get sustainable smoke hoods and cookstoves that will reduce smoke and save lives.
Hear how your support is making a life-changing difference to these families.
Saraswoti’s house was devastated in the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and her family lived in a tent for four months. But their house has been rebuilt with an improved stove and smokehood and it has transformed their lives.
“Before, we had a traditional stove. The main problem was fetching the firewood. The old stove used twice as much wood. To fetch wood, it would take three hours there and back.
“And the stove was really smoky; my eyes were watery and I couldn’t see properly. It used to hurt a lot.
“When the children were small, they suffered from pneumonia. The kids started coughing; they had a fever. At the hospital they told me it was the cold and the smoke. The doctor gave me some medicine and told me to keep them warm and away from the smoke. I tried to keep them away from the smoke but at times it was hard to; I had my children on my back, I had to take care of the family.”
After the earthquake, she heard about smokehoods.
“I was told that it consumes less firewood, it’s less smoky and food cooks faster. We don’t have to worry about smoke now.”
“If someone asked me about the smoke hood, I would say ‘you don’t have to suffer from the smoke. It’s saving time; I now use this time for farming and other chores.
“Before, while studying my children were around smoke and would sometimes run away from the house. They can now study in the house because there is no smoke. It’s definitely helping their education. I want the children to get a proper education so they can have good jobs.”
For 26-year-old Saraswoti, the worry about her family’s health is over.
Living in the small village of Dandubhanjyang with her husband Som and their two daughters (aged three and six), she has always cooked over a traditional stove.
She said: “It was always smoky. My eyes would water all the time. I could feel it on my chest.”
Som added: “We suffered a lot, especially during the rainy season. The wood takes forever to burn. No we have the smoke hood, it is easier and better. I feel my wife has suffered a lot.”
Saraswoti said she knew about smoke-related diseases like cancer and pneumonia, but she had no choice.”
“I would worry. I remember when I was young. The house was full of smoke. I used to run away. We were always trying to move towards a solution; we knew it was affecting everyone. We heard that it affects women a lot; we were told that it increases uterus cancer.
But now they have an improved stove and smokehood installed in their home she said she doesn’t have to worry, and she has more time freed from collecting firewood to spend time with her children.
“I help them with homework. We also have more time to farm,” she said. “This is much easier and quicker.”