According to WHO, more than 20,000 Kenyans are dying every year due to the effects of inefficient and polluting cooking fuels used by families across the country, several reports have revealed, with millions more at risk of dying early.
Globally, the World Health Organization says that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. The use of inefficient and polluting cooking fuel, such as charcoal and kerosene, is a primary driver of this alarming situation.
Triple threat – health, environment, economy
The WHO has long-reported on the continued impacts of household air pollution, driven by cooking with inefficient and polluting fuels. In Kenya, as many as 8-10% of early deaths are attributable to indoor air pollution from charcoal and wood cooking alone; this excludes the unquantified but likely substantial negative effects of kerosene cooking on lung function, infectious illness and cancer risks, as well as burns and poisonings.
The urban Kenyan cooking fuel market is estimated to be worth Ksh 60bn – Ksh 80bn annually, but it remains dominated by inefficient and polluting fuels. Charcoal (22%) and kerosene (29%) are prevalent in urban Kenya due to their wide availability and, traditionally, their relative affordability, despite the rise in prices of such fuels. Another factor in the widespread use of inefficient and polluting fuels has been a lack of awareness about safer and cheaper alternatives, such as LPG and bioethanol.
It is not just Kenya’s health system that feels the strain as a result of these cooking fuels; the environment is suffering greatly, due to green house gas emissions, toxic particles and charcoal-driven deforestation.
Equally, the economic impact is also very significant. Last year’s WHO report explained that air pollution is leading to more days spent in hospitals and out of the workforce, with a financial impact that is “unmistakable but, like the health costs, often ignored”.
In many affected countries, the WHO notes that health-driven expenses as a result of dirty cooking fuels are expected to grow faster than GDPs, if nothing is done.
Kenya, for instance, loses KSh 200 billion each year as a result of premature deaths brought about by air pollution, according to a study by Global Policy Forum, which made the first major attempt to calculate both the human and financial cost of Africa’s pollution.
A different study by the University of Nairobi and Sweden’s University of Gotenburg suggested that the air in Nairobi is so polluted that it may be causing serious ailments, including heart and lung diseases as well as cancer. In Africa, air pollution kills 712,000 people every year compared with about 542,000 due to unsafe water, 275,000 due to malnutrition, and 391,000 due to unsafe sanitation, says the report.
There is a need to continue promoting efficient and cleaner cooking fuels by advocating for an enabling environment for increased awareness and adoption. When affected communities adopt cleaner cooking fuels for their primary use, the number of respiratory health complications and risks to environmental pollution will be reduced.