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Indoor Air Pollution and Improved Cook Stoves.

Up to 95% of people in poor countries cook on open fires using wood, dung or agricultural waste, filling their homes with pollutants including health damaging particulates and carbon monoxide. 1.6 million deaths per year are attributable to the pollutants from open fires.


The World Health Organization has found associations between Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) and respiratory infections, asthma, tuberculosis, nasopharyngeal cancer, cataracts, blindness and cardiovascular disease. Burns are a common problem for small children and for women cooking meals around open fires. Children suffering IAP induced illnesses miss school and adults miss work. Open fires consume large amounts of solid fuel, and much time is spent finding and cutting wood – threatening forests in developing nations.


Over the past 25 years, a number of improved cook stoves have emerged designed to both get the smoke out of the house and to reduce fuel-wood consumption. These stoves generally have two things in common: a metal chimney that guides smoke to the outside, and an enclosed fire box that increases the efficiency of burning the wood.


Claims in the reduction of pollutants range from a 66% reduction to a 99% reduction; many stove distributors have test results to support their stoves’ performance. Burns are largely eliminated as the fire is no longer on the floor but contained within the stove. Women suffer fewer back problems as they are standing up cooking rather than bending over a fire.


These improved stoves can also reduce the consumption of wood by 70% – a tremendous savings in time or money – and for forest conservation. Indeed, the savings in the cost of fuel wood can pay for the stoves in three to four months, and a number of distributors have partnered with microcredit organizations to help families finance the stoves for this brief time period. Rather than receiving stoves as a donation, families can pay for the stoves out of savings on fuel wood leaving the NGO with more cash with which to be able to continue the program. Stoves range in price from $25 to $150. Some are pre-manufactured; some are built in place out of masonry.


Stove programs are popular with NGOs; they are a good way for an NGO to enter into a relationship with a new community. They are a simple concept to promote to communities and the health and cost benefits are immediately evident to the beneficiaries.


A good way to get started in a community is to provide stoves to 3 to 4 families for a month or two prior to beginning the program. The women who use the stoves will be able to attest to their cost savings and to improved family health. Their neighbors will more likely trust their testimonies than promotion by outsiders who work for an NGO. They will also be able to be your NGO’s trainers once the program begins since community members will need to be trained in stove use and maintenance. They can also be your follow-up staff as new stove users need to have follow-up visits to ensure that they are still using the stoves properly and that they are maintaining them.


Each stove manufacturer/distributor will have program guidelines that your NGO can follow. There will likely be 5 or 6 competing products in your region, so take your time visiting the different companies. Ask them for the emissions tests that back up their claims. Ask if you can visit a community that is using their stoves. The community members will be able to tell you how much wood they are saving, whether they are happy cooking with the stove and if they have had any problems.


Concerns that beneficiaries have expressed are largely cultural; after all they have been cooking on three-stone fires for millennia.

§ They miss sitting around the fire at night talking to the family

§ They miss the light the fire provided (important in areas with no electricity)

§ They express concern that bugs might infest thatch roofing without the constant smoke in the roofing

§ In cold areas, they miss the heat the open fire supplied


One interesting solution is to put a small table on each of two sides of the stove for the family members to sit at and face each other for talking in the evenings ‘around the fire’. The tables also trap some of the waste heat making it a warm place to sit after dinner or while mom cooks. A simple solution for the lower light problem is to whitewash the interior of the house and use rechargeable solar flashlights so the children can read their schoolbooks at night.



Duflo E, Greenstone M, Hanna R, Indoor Air Pollution, Health and Economic well-being, 2008, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT.


Bruce N, Neufeld L, Boy E, West C, Indoor biofuel air pollution and respiratory health: the role of confounding factors among women in highland Guatemala, 1998, International Journal of Epidemiology 1998:27:454-458.


Masera O, Edwards R, Arnez CA, Berrueta V, Johnson M, Bracho, LR, Riojas-Rodriguez H, Smith KR, Impact of Patsari improved cookstoves on indoor air quality in Michoacán, Mexico, 2007, Energy for Sustainable Development, Volume XI No. 2 June 2007.


The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air. 295 partner organizations are contributing their resources and expertise to reduce smoke exposure from cooking and heating practices in households around the world. http://www.pciaonline.org/ .