Smoke and health in Kenya
Smoke hoods - a practical solution
Practical 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.
Average smoke levels were recorded at over 100 times the accepted international standards and several hundred times higher during cooking times. Practical Action helped the women develop a simple smoke hood, which has reduced smoke levels in the houses by up to 80%.
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 Health Organisation, wood smoke is a cause of 1.5 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, its 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 practical solution
Working with communities in Kenya, Practical Action has developed a special smoke hood which is simple, cost effective and efficient, and is already helping to save lives. The smoke hood draws smoke straight from the fire and out through the roof.
- Practical 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.
- Practical Action field staff made house visits to identify the desired positions for windows, eave spaces, and the position of smoke hoods.
- Practical 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), and the smoke hoods were manufactured and tested in situ.
- Modifications were made to the smoke hoods, and householders were trained in their proper use and maintenance.
- Norparkuo and her neighbours are now living 'smoke free'.
Even small windows and eaves improve circulation of clean air into the house
Hot air rises up into the smoke hood and out of the chimney, cutting smoke levels by up to 70%
A lasting success
Feedback from community members has been overwhelming. Helen Owalla, Smoke and Health Project Field Officer for Practical 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!"
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 Practical Action has shared this success with other institutions and organisations around the world.
Read more about our work on indoor air pollution
Smoke: the killer in the kitchen
Smoke from cooking in the home causes the deaths of 1.5 million mainly women and children every year. Writer and broadcaster Adam Hart-Davis visited Kenya to see the problem for himself, and to raise awareness of one of the biggest killers in the developing world.
Read Read Adam's first-hand report on indoor air pollution
Watch more of Practical Action's energy work on video.
In-depth information on Practical Action's work on reducing indoor air pollution in Kenya:
- Smoke: the Killer in the Kitchen - Practical Action report calling for action on indoor air pollution in developing countries
- Kenyan Smoke and Health project: illustrated summary ~670k
- Kenyan Smoke and Health project: full Practical Action report (text) ~334k
Kenyan Smoke and Health project : full Practical Action report (illustrated version) ~3.4Mb
Please note that the illustrated report is over 3MB and is only suitable for broadband connections.
- Read more about the Smoke and Health project on the Technology for Sustainable Livelihoods website
- Read more about household energy and poverty reduction in Practical Action's journal Boiling Point including:
Participatory approaches for alleviating indoor air pollution in rural Kenyan kitchens ~141K
- Smoke Health HHE issues paper ~232K
an introduction to a DFID-funded smoke-alleviation study, outlining the issues regarding smoke for poor communities in Kenya, Nepal and Sudan
- Practical Action East Africa's energy programme
- Smoke in Turkana - from the December 2003 Practical Action-EA newsletter