How can clean cooking create safer communities and a healthier planet?

By Practical Action On 14.05.2021 Climate changeFood & agricultureSustainable Development Goals

Regardless of where you live, you should have access to healthy food – and the means to cook it safely.

When we cook at home, we can take our appliances and the energy that fuels them for granted – but almost half the world’s people don’t use the equipment to help them prepare food in a safe and environmentally-friendly manner.

Currently, over three billion people depend on open fires or inefficient stoves to cook. Helping communities move from traditional methods of cooking to cleaner, safer techniques has the potential to create transformative change for the planet! 

 

Fatima, part of the community in El Fasher, is now able to cook without having to be exposed to harmful chemicals

How does unsafe cooking affect the planet?

Hugely. Using inefficient stoves or open fires to cook emits one-quarter of global black carbon emissions (black carbon, or soot, is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood and other fuels). This makes cooking using these methods the second largest contributor to climate change, behind carbon dioxide [according to the Clean Cooking Alliance].

Moreover, collecting fuel is equally damaging. Firewood and charcoal are the most commonly used, with 2.4 billion people relying on these fuels for cooking. Using them not only results in environmental degradation due to the destruction of trees at an unsustainable rate but it also reduces the number of plants absorbing emitted carbon. Deforestation accelerates desertification and reduces the absorption and retention of water in soil, thereby making previously fertile ground no longer suitable for farming.

Focusing on clean cooking is a vital step to addressing climate change, improving health and reducing environmental damage.

The dangers of unsafe cooking

There is an additional, more direct, human cost to cooking over open fires. In many communities, women and girls traditionally do all cooking and collecting of fuel, and are disproportionately affected by the consequences. They spend long hours surrounded by acrid smoke, which The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates is equal to smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day. Often this smoke results in chronic eye or chest infections, which requires money to pay a doctor to treat. Worse still, in the longer term, indoor air pollution can also cause a range of more severe and terminal illnesses – asthma, bronchitis, cataracts and lung cancer. By adopting cleaner methods of cooking, communities can reduce this risk and prepare food for their families safely.

What is clean cooking?

When we talk about cleaner methods of cooking, we’re referring to stoves and fuels that are safe to use and that do not create emissions that are harmful for the individual, their family or their environment. Clean cooking methods are varied, but all seek to create a safer, healthier home. For our clean cooking work in Nepal, we focussed on well-designed chimneys to reduce smoke. In Darfur, we introduced Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) stoves to reduce carbon emissions, which we’ll explore in more detail later in the article.

Clean cooking is transformative, on both a personal and a community level

 

Reducing black carbon, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants would not only have substantial co-benefits on health and air pollution, but can in the short-term, contribute significantly to limiting global warming to 2 degrees celsius, a long-term international goal for avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.” 

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018)

The positive difference clean cooking can make

Switching to a safer, modern stove makes an immediate difference. Modern stoves present a highly efficient option, reducing fuel use by 30%-60% [according to the Clean Cooking Alliance], dramatically reducing the greenhouse gases and black carbon emissions.

Reducing black carbon, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants would not only have substantial co-benefits on health and air pollution, but can in the short-term, contribute significantly to limiting global warming to 2 degrees celsius, a long-term international goal for avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.”  

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018)

Women benefit greatly when a clean cooking approach is adopted. Not only from the initial health benefits, but from the opportunities it creates. According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, women and girls spend 16 hours per week on average collecting fuel and water for their homes. Time and again, we see that by removing the pressure to collect fuel women devote extra time to their education, focus on their children and find new opportunities for work and development.

Since the installation of safer stoves, more men in the community have started cooking – challenging previously-held attitudes

Clean air creates brilliant changes – see it in action

Alongside international climate consultancy EcoAct, we implemented the Darfur Sudan Cookstove Project. EcoAct helps businesses and organisations succeed in their climate ambitions and believe that simple solutions can create a low carbon world. Their focus straightforward, scalable approach made them a perfect partner. 

This award-winning project focussed on work with communities in Sudan, and is a great example of the brilliant change that clean cooking can create.   

For this project, Practical Action also teamed up with the Women’s Development Association to introduce new Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) stoves in El Fasher, Darfur. The switch to these new Liquid Petroleum Gas Stoves quickly reduced carbon emissions and gave thousands of families clean air, improved health, more time and more money to spend on essentials. The project also sought to provide women in Darfur with business and accounting skills. 

We’re so proud of what we were able to achieve with the Darfur Sudan Cookstove Project – it requires us to convene and collaborate at all levels, from displaced women, the private sector and local authorities in El Fasher, to European corporate businesses to bring about powerful change in a region which has few long-term development programmes. 

Working closely with the community, safer stoves are introduced – creating more time for women in the community to spend with their family and learn new skills

 

“Before the Liquid Petroleum Gas stoveI used wood and the traditional three stone fire to cook. This method of cooking affected our health. We had chest infections, coughs. I never allowed my children to come into the kitchen while I was cooking.” 

Khadija, mother in Elfashir, North Darfur, Sudan

 

The success of the Darfur Sudan Cookstove Project:

  • 12,080 stoves have now been installed in households in El FadirSudan with small loans offered to poorer families to help cover the initial costs of transitioning to clean cooking.
  • Each stove installed in a household in Darfur saves 4.5 tCO₂e – this is the equivalent to one passenger flying 3 times between London and New York! 
  • Since the installation of these stoves, almost 100% of households have said the air quality in their home has drastically improved. 
  • The new stoves use less fuel, saving around 65% on monthly fuel bills. 
  • 100% of households have reported decreases in energy expenditure. 
  • 26% of women are starting new income generating activities, with a further 8% expanding existing activities with the time saved no longer having to collect wood.  
  • 58% of women said they had more time to spend with their children. 
  • 48% of women surveyed said their husbands have even showed more interest in the cooking with the new stoves – which shows the start of an important change in attitude. 
  • Deforestation has now slowed and new community forests have been planted. 
  • This project has now become the first accredited carbon credit project in Sudan, with LPG stoves cutting more than 400,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide over ten years. 

All of this is amazing news, with clean cooking at the core of these important changes.

“The LPG stove has totally eliminated the smoke and it has also helped families to have a bit more money. LPG gas is cheaper than charcoal – which many families use to cook with as well as firewood. We can use the money we save on other things – maybe for our farming or to buy more food. I think each family saves about 110 Sudanese pounds a month.” 

Randa Fadul Ali, ElflashirWomen’s Development AssociationNorth Darfur, Sudan

Together, we can bring clean cooking to scale

By encouraging more communities to adopt clean cooking methods and making more people aware of the damaging and dangerous effects of unsafe cooking, we can help more communities change how they cook. This positive change will lead to safer lives, healthy communities and reduce the climate impact of cooking.  

This project is an example of our ability to work across sectors, with grassroots organisations and in some of the most challenging situations in the world. We’ve proved that this clean cooking model can work and transform entire communities in one of the toughest places to live.  

Contact or support us to help take this lifechanging work to scale.