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Stoves that make breathing easy

Sujay Mehdudia
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An innovative project addresses indoor air pollution which impacts a large number of women

BENEFICIAL:Improved stoves still burn wood, dung and other biomass but emit substantially less fumes and use less fuel.
BENEFICIAL:Improved stoves still burn wood, dung and other biomass but emit substantially less fumes and use less fuel.

Women, particularly from the underprivileged sections and rural areas, easily fall prey to Indoor Air Pollution (IAP). This is because they mostly do their cooking on open fire or traditional chulhas which cause pollution due to incomplete combustion of the wood, dung or biomass that they use. In most cases these women have no choice -- safety stoves using LPG cylinders are either unavailable or unaffordable.

As a result of this, the women and children too, inhale toxic chemicals that penetrate deep into the lungs leading to a wide variety of illnesses including pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease, heart disease, low birth weight and may be tuberculosis.

IAP has been identified as one of the world's biggest killers claiming 1.9 million lives prematurely every year. According to the World Health Organization, in India it kills 500,000 people annually of which 85 per cent are women and toddlers.

Besides being a killer, IAP also generates carbon footprint due to inefficient combustion, leading to deterioration of the environment and climate change. It has been recognised as one of the country's most pressing development and energy issues, with the government trying to take various measures to tackle it on a priority basis.

The internationally-recognised most effective method for IAP-affected households is to adopt the so-called `Improved Cook Stoves' (ICS) – ones that still burn wood, dung and other biomass but emit substantially less fumes and use less fuel. These cook stoves have significant global health and environmental impacts and economic payback incentives.

The cook stoves are based on improved combustion efficiency technology. This extra efficiency cuts cooking time in half, while each stove consumes 50 per cent less fuel and reduces emissions by 80 per cent compared to traditional cook stoves. A reduction in the cooking time means that women spend less time in the kitchen and inhale lesser amount of toxic smoke.

Over the past few years Shell Foundation has tested multiple strategies in collaboration with the governments and Anganwadi workers, stove manufacturers and micro finance institutions to create awareness, provide sustainable routes to market and create affordable solutions.

Currently, it is partnering Envirofit to develop a viable business model, conduct in-depth consumer market research, undertake product development and establish distribution and sales network. Envirofit has subsequently produced a line of durable clean cook stoves.

Carbon credits are earned on basis of these carbon savings but the revenue from carbon credits flows in only after two or three years. Clean cook stove manufacturers simply lack the working capital to cover this gap. Shell Foundation has stepped in to help by creating a special carbon fund. The carbon trading benefit is used to subsidise stoves.


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