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| Last Updated:: 29/12/2016

Cooking emissions an overlooked contributor to air pollution











KOLKATA: The skyline on this part of the country turns grey by afternoon. By dusk, a thick layer of smog envelops the horizon. With winter setting in, millions living in rural and suburban India has many reasons to worry about, one of it being air pollution.

The surroundings suffer from choking smog and acrid smell in the air, most of which are the result of smoke from chulhas and conventional cook stoves used by millions at their homes. While climatic conditions are contributors to bad air quality, man-made pollution is also a huge contributor across the country.

India is suffocating through an air pollution emergency. The alarming rise in air pollution levels across India, especially during winter, can be attributed to increase in industrial chimney waste, thermal power stations, burning of farms and vehicular emission. However, the effect of air pollution is different in Eastern India as compared to the rest of the country, where millions still depend on coal-based heating and cooking medium.

With multiple cities far from reaching the minimum air quality standards recommended by the World Health Organization, traffic is being forcibly reduced, construction projects are put on hold, in order to combat the crisis. Yet one of the pollution crisis's major contributors, emissions from cooking, has not made headlines as other pollution sources have. Over 85% of Indian rural households use biomass as cooking fuel, according to reports. Biomass burning not only causes indoor pollution but destroys a key resource for soil rejuvenation.

According to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), nearly 40% of India's air pollution comes from domestic fuel burning. For decades, researchers, experts and NGOs have looked for ways of convincing people to switch to more efficient and cost effective cooking methods.


When people cook on traditional chulhas, large amounts of toxic smoke and soot escape into the air. These emissions, which can cause cancer, pneumonia, heart disease etc, are a major contributor to outdoor air pollution.

In addition to air pollution, burning solid fuels releases emissions of some of the most important contributors to global climate change: carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). Unsustainable wood harvesting also contributes to deforestation, reducing carbon uptake by forests.



Earlier this year, an online database established with support from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative by the United Nation Foundation, began tracking the impact of household energy consumption on more than 640 districts across India. The data showed that almost 30% of the country's outdoor air pollution is due to household energy combustion. In some districts, household air pollution contributes over half of outdoor air pollution, making it clear that reducing outdoor air pollution requires addressing indoor air pollution as well.



The government has announced plans to connect 50 million households below the poverty line to cooking gas by 2019. Thus far, nearly 14 million households have already been given connections to cooking gas. Multiple partners of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves have engaged with the ministry of health and family welfare, in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO, to develop a strategy for including clean cooking as part of India's integrated Action Plan for Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea.



"We know the health impacts of cooking in India, where far too many people still cook with heavily polluting fuels," says Damodar Bachani, deputy commissioner at the ministry of health and family welfare, adding, "The ministry, in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, is helping to mitigate the impact of air pollution on health. One of the proven solutions is increasing the use of safer, cleaner fuels and stoves for cooking."


"Household air pollution from cooking is a leading cause of illness and death in India. Switching millions of people from cooking with solid fuels to consistent use of clean fuels could deliver huge benefits to health and the environment, especially air quality," said Radha Muthiah, CEO of GACC.








Source: The Times of India