Smoke hoods in Kenya

ITDGPractical Action has worked with Maasai women in the Kajiado region of Kenya to find appropriate solutions to the extreme problem of indoor air pollution in their homes - where average smoke levels were recorded at over 100 times the accepted international standards and several hundred times higher during cooking times. ITDGPractical Action helped the women develop a simple smoke hood, which has reduced smoke levels in the houses by up to 80%.

The problem

In Kenya, where 96 per cent of people lack any access to grid electricity - wood and dung (biomass) provides over 75 per cent of all energy. ‘Clean’ fuel to cook the food that people eat, light for study and power to run tools for earning a living is almost non existent - and wood makes dangerous smoke which kills.

According to the World Trade Organisation, wood smoke is a cause of nearly two million deaths a year - and a common cause of respiratory infections, lung disease, ear and eye problems, breathlessness, chest pains, headaches and giddiness.

For women like Norparkuo, a Maasai woman living with her family in Kajiado, it's hard to find ways to reduce this killer smoke - and meet the demands of a normal day.

Measuring the danger hour by hour

At 4am, Norparkuo wakes and starts the fires to make tea. By 4.30am she’s feeding the goats and by 5.30am, she prepared the day’s water cans and has another cup of tea. By 6am, she’s loaded up the donkeys for the four-hour trek to the water pump and at 10am, she waters the animals and starts filling the water cans. At midday, she’s loaded the donkeys with the heavy cans and has started the journey home. She’s home at 4pm, re lights the fire and has a rest, but by 6pm, she’s washed the dishes, prepared the vegetables, put the food in pots on the fire and has served her family a late lunch. At 7pm it’s time for Norparkuo to collect firewood and at 9pm, she milks the goats again.

The family eats supper at 11pm (if they have it) and the children go to bed. And finally, by midnight, Norparkuo has covered the still smoking fire and gone to sleep.

And strapped to her back as she works, Norparkuo’s baby son spends hours indoors by the fire. Smoke fills the one-room home, so every day more smoke fills the little boy’s lungs.

Norparkuo, who works hard for her family, knows her child might be dying but how can she reduce the smoke inhaled by her children - and yet meet the demands of her day?

A solution

  • ITDGPractical Action field staff talked to the Maasai to identify the social and health problems associated with smoke.
  • Communities discussed a range of interventions - windows, larger eave spaces or smoke hoods - that could be installed.
  • ITDGPractical Action field staff made house visits to identify the desired positions for windows, eave spaces, and the position of smoke hoods.
  • ITDGPractical Action worked with each community to make models of hoods (out of hard manilla paper).
  • Local artisans, experienced in local manufacturing techniques checked the dimensions.
  • The designs were transferred to sheet metal (a heavy gauge galvanised sheet).
  • The smoke hoods were manufactured and tested in situ.
  • Modifications were made.
  • Householders were trained in their proper use and maintenance.
  • Norparkuo and her neighbours are now living ‘smoke free’.

A lasting success

Hellen, the field supervisor, calibrates a particulate monitor before it is taken to one of the households. (photo: N Bruce)

Feedback from community members has been overwhelming. Helen Owalla, Smoke and Health Project Field Officer for ITDGPractical Action in East Africa reports: "Families in Kajiado tell me that the alleviation of smoke has far exceeded their expectations. We’ve discovered that not only do the smoke hoods improve people’s health, but they also reduce drudgery, save money and increase people’s comfort."

"Norparkuo told me that her husband used to suffer very badly from asthma attacks before the hoods were put in place and he used to steer clear of the kitchen. But now, he’s willing to help his wife in some domestic tasks. He wakes up at 5.30am, puts his own bathing water on the fire and as he goes to bathe, he leaves the tea getting ready. Norparkuo is relieved from waking early and doing all the household chores by herself!"

The new windows in their houses have allowed Kajiado women to do beadwork in their homes, while their children can do their homework. (photo: N Bruce)

For the families living in Kajiado and Western Kenya, improved health, a reduction in drudgery and a better living environment is success worth sharing and already in Kisii, West Kenya, new families are keen to have the smokehoods installed. On a broader front, local leaders and government departments have been influenced by the success of the smoke hood project and have been encouraged to campaign for smoke reduction - and ITDGPractical Action has shared this success with other institutions and organisations around the world.

Further reading

How to read Portable Data Format (PDF) files

More general information about how energy can aid poverty reduction:

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