Cooking smoke deadly threat in developing world
September 16th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
Share this on:

Cooking a hot meal is one the most basic, instinctive, nurturing ways to feed the body and soul of a loved one. Yet for nearly 3 billion people in the developing world with inefficient and rudimentary stoves, it yields an unsavory outcome.

Approximately 1.9 million people - mostly women and children - die prematurely each year because of exposure to and respiratory complications from poorly ventilated cooking smoke.

According to the World Health Organization, that makes indoor air pollution from biomass and coal stoves the fifth largest health threat to the developing world.

“What you often find is the mother’s intentions are so positive. She’s collected the wood, she’s built a fire, she’s cooked food to nourish the kids, but the impact and effect can be the exact opposite of nourishment,” says Radha Muthiah, the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was launched on September 21, 2010 by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the United Nations Foundation. The ultimate goal of the Alliance and its now more than 160 partners is to have 100 million clean cookstoves adopted in households by the year 2020.

And this week, the Alliance added a culinary heavyweight to its roster: noted chef José Andrés.

“I have seen this silent killer first hand, and I am therefore honored to join the Alliance in helping to raise additional awareness,” said Chef José Andrés. “Shortly after the earthquake, I went to Haiti to assist in humanitarian relief efforts, and saw that the grinding poverty they live with day-to-day had been exacerbated by dirty cooking conditions in overcrowded and unsafe tent cities.”

Substantial health costs aside, Muthiah points out it's also important to be mindful of the opportunity costs of inefficient cooking devices. These include security concerns for women in conflict zones going out with their children to collect wood and climate concerns of greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

"We’ve seen that this one very simple intervention can tackle a multitude of development issues. We’ve focused a lot on the health side, but what comes about from reduced time to cook and reduced time to collect fuel is that women can engage more productively in their community, in their economy and in their family," says Muthiah.

"Kids can go to school more because they’re no longer off with their mothers or grandmothers collecting wood – which can take anywhere from two to four hours depending on where you live. There are all kinds of livelihood, economic and empowerment issues that come about for adopting a clean cookstove."

Included in the Alliance's “100 by 20” plan is the introduction of high-energy, low-smoke stoves. This can mean, depending on the specific locale and societal needs, cooking with clean fuels like biogas or kerosene, electric stoves or even solar cookers.

However, the challenge for the Alliance is not a supply-side issue; the demand-side is just as crucial.

"It’s almost like when you’re using a charcoal barbecue versus a gas barbecue," says Muthiah. "You want to make sure all those recipes that have been handed down for generations in their families are still going to taste as good. They’re many of these cultural and social barriers that can actually be overcome - we just need to understand them and include them as a critical user requirement in developing the next generation of stoves."

She continues: “Understanding what the stove should be able to do is critical, otherwise the person responsible for cooking may not end up using the product.”

The United States government has pledged more than $50 million over the next five years to support the Alliance's mission.

soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. Hitesh

    Don't believe this. Many women in these countries cook via this method. Let's check their health with others. They are healthier and stronger.

    September 17, 2011 at 7:06 am |
    • Sublime

      First off, I would find it hard to believe that life expectancy in under-developed countries is longer than in developed countries. Actually, we all know it's not.

      However, this article, to me, is more of a statement than a 'we need to do something about it'. Also, I would be interested to see how they collected this data.

      September 17, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  2. homegroan

    cooking killed 1.9 million – but it fed over 7 billion. tolerable losses. i vote to keep cooking.

    September 17, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  3. asdf

    All this is totally needless. They could sprout almost everything they now cook. All they need is a little more water than they would use for cooking for soaking the seeds/grains/beans/legumes/peas/etc, then rinsing a few times. Most sprouts are ready in 24-36 hours. They are best eaten when they are just starting to sprout. Bean sprouts (about 2" long and a very light yellow color) sold in many grocery stores are not natural as they have been bleached so they don't go bad, which removes most if not all nutrients. Plus the nutritional content in sprouts is usually far higher than the same food cooked. Also almost all alfalfa, broccoli and other fine type sprouts sold in grocery stores are rancid – they should be a dark green – not yellowing like they do when they are going bad. Grow your own. Know the quality. Trust your nose. Once they start to smell it means there was not enough rinsing (best done every few hours) and they need to be discarded.

    September 17, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • jeremy

      sprouts washed with clean water can have problems with food-borne illness. sprouts made in water with sewage in it is simply asking for millions of deaths from dysentery, cholera, etc. wood-gas stoves and other forms of efficient stove are a way of simply improving the way people prefer to render their food.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  4. mk

    Fresh fruit and vegetables can be eaten raw, and provide complete nutrition, if eaten in sufficient quantity to get our daily caloric needs. No cooking. No gathering firewood, etc. See books on Natural Hygiene, etc. e.g. 80/10/1o

    September 17, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • The Old One

      I fully agree. It does however not suit the Pharmaceutical industry for people to eat healthy, as that would undermine their client base.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • BB

      ALL ABOARD THE GET-A-CLUE TRAIN. Easy access to fresh vegetables all the time is a luxury enjoyed by few, and generally by the well-off. You're not going to be able to provide fresh vegetables to all these people when they can barely afford to run their stoves in the first place to make bread with grains. So stop being so naive about how people live in the developing world.

      September 17, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • Medical Student

      wrong. I do love it though how every joe shmoe thinks they're a scientist all of a sudden.

      In developing countries, eating fruits and vegetables raw could mean death. Assuming the ignorant poster here is not from a developing nation, they are lucky enough to live in a country that has plumbing and a sewage system. In a developing nation that doesn't exist.

      bacteria that cause dystentary, cholera, as well as parasites exist in large quantities where in places like the U.S. they are relatively uncommon (relatively- since those things do exist here but not usually in sufficient quantities to actually cause disease).

      Cooking is essential.

      Also one can get sufficient caloric and nutrient intake from a purely vegetable diet. That is a vegetarian and vegan lie that has propagated far too long. It just simply isn't so. MOST vegetarians and vegans who do NOT use supplements are severely vitamin deficient, and I've even encountered vegans exhibiting muscle atrophy due to a lack of protein and necessary vitamins and minerals.

      Supplements are NOT available in developing nations and therefore meat IS essential.

      Next time before you spew ignorance all over, do a little research first so you don't sound so foolish.

      September 17, 2011 at 3:33 am |
  5. arby

    we need huge food boxes that harness nature prodice a simple survival food. the device could drop out and produce food. we could harvest nutrinos and convert them to mana using the sun. the food boxes could be satellites that release mana into poor areas. the food storms could occur every week or so in poor areas.

    September 17, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  6. Raj

    I think we are taking this story at face value. We come from a village in India way up near tibet. Due to the cold and the snow the houses have very low ceilings (4-5 feet) to keep the heat in. The hearth and stove use fires and it gets smoky cooking. I am not going to argue that its not healthy, I start crying and coughing immediatey – but my grand mother cooks in dense smoke also work out in the clean air for 10 hours a day, they eat 100% organic food, they burn 1000's of calories and for the most part they live for an infinite age (90's and 100's) meanwhile my generation scattered in Delhi, Mumbai, London, the US are twice the weight and 4 of us have died of cancer from excess.

    Yes smoky kitchens are a problem – but give me a break – don't flash around a number like 3 billion and then follow it up with some weak number like 1.9 million deaths. Obviously most of those deaths were probably in complete urban situations where the air quality was horrible to begin with and the kitchen was an incremental factor. BAD ARTICLE!!

    September 17, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Bob Bobsworth

      I agree it's a bad article because it's really not a concern of ours in the developed nation. We have our own issues right now, and honestly it's a little more pressing (being humans/animals/however you wish to classify us our needs come first or you're an idiot). It's only an issue because our average life spans have increased so much. Are we seriously going to gnash our teeth and cry "disaster" every time some 3rd world population fails to have the same life span and standard of living as a rich person in the US or similar nation? I'm not saying we should ignore it, but we have our own homeless and at-risk population here. Where're their articles? Where's their support? Or is it assumed that our desitute are better off simply because they live in the US? Or perhaps, it's more elite to care for a foreign nation's poor than our own?

      September 17, 2011 at 12:47 am |
      • jeremy

        perhaps saving wood in africa will avoid deaths and destruction in america. assuming global weirding is true, as the present year of disasters in america suggests, saving carbon spilling into the atmosphere happens to give us an incentive to give half a crap about other human beings. i have built and use stoves like what they propose for $2.50, it is possible to build them for under $.15/each.

        September 17, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  7. kendallpeak

    There should be excessive taxation of fuels used for cooking. With enough taxes we will live forever.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  8. eric

    I think the US should chip in but 50 million i mean thats a lot of money. Use that money at home. I know they are trying to raise the standard of living along with good cooking condition but really. There are some places in America that need bridge and road repair. Some houses still use out houses.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Aeroman

      50 million dollars is like a golf ball sitting in the middle of the Cowboys Stadium (the overall budget). I'm sure we can manage...

      September 17, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  9. dmordal

    I moved my charcoal grill outside after it killed many of my family members. How do you live in the same area for literally thousands of years and not catch on? Poor doesn't equal stupid.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  10. Nature Alliance


    September 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Adam


      September 16, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
      • Mike

        Get an education Adam, you are an idiot.

        September 16, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
      • Aeroman

        @Mike, I believe he was making a sarcastic comment to highlight how ridiculous the notion is that we should all turn to a raw vegan diet or else be guilty of contributing to climate change. Humans have been cooking for thousands of years. Look at our teeth. They're DESIGNED to eat BOTH vegetables and meant. We ARE omnivores. Both of you (@Nature Alliance and @Mike) get an education.

        September 17, 2011 at 12:13 am |
      • JJ

        This is actually true, in a small way. Our metabolic processes (and those of most multicellular organisms) carbonize the oxygen that we breathe converting it to CO2. Atmospheric CO2 concentration appears to have a causal relation to global temperature. Ergo, breathing contributes to warming of the earth. If I recall, the order of magnitude of the global total (of emissions from breathing) is around 10% of what is produced by personal transportation (cars, etc..).

        September 17, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • Sublime

      yeah, but forest fires are wayyy more significant...

      Down with lightening, down with lightening... come on, who's with me? Down with lightening...

      September 16, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
      • Al


        September 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
      • Podunk

        What is it that you wish not to lighten? mean *lightning!"

        September 17, 2011 at 12:33 am |
      • Sublime

        Podunk... good attempt at trying to go off a misspelling. However, 'lighten' would be a stretch if the misspelled word was "lightening", don't you think? I'll give you props for trying.

        September 17, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Al


      September 16, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  11. Al

    I like the way whenever they talk about a lot of people dying they use the phrase "women and children" like it's ok if it were just men.

    September 16, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Ryan

      Uh, it was saying that mostly women and children are effected, because that's the case.

      September 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
      • Al

        Yes I know but why do they even mention women and children? The article is about people dying from smoke inhalation. Does it make the problem more severe because women and children are involved?

        September 16, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
      • Sublime

        @Al, you don't have a point right now. Best just stop.

        September 16, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
      • drkusn

        no he has a point

        September 16, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
      • Sublime

        If by point you mean he's upset that the story mentioned that women and children were more susceptible to this threat then I would disagree with you. However, please explain how you could think this level of detail is inappropriate in this context.

        September 17, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  12. NoTags

    And car and truck emissions injure lungs, and smoke inhaled from forest fires injure lungs, and smoke from charcoal grills injure lungs, and everything you eat or drink is bad for you.

    So the good news is if you go ahead and die, you don't have to worry about all these things.

    September 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  13. Demonfeed

    If I can be banned from smoking in public, restaurants can't cook in public places. It is time for a cooking-ban!

    September 16, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Did you read the article

      Did you?

      September 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  14. Rahman Raheem

    Great ideas by rich westerners. It really comes down to costs. The dried dung and fallen wood are free for the picking, anything else must be paid for. Gas is too expensive for the majority of the rural people, and even that is not without its pitfalls with poisioning the air with toxic gas if the stove is not hooked up right (or the stove can blow up). And furthermore, even if the stoves are donated, there will be some 'distributer' who will want his extra cut from the buyer. What needs to be taught is better ventelation (not purchasing some western contraption).

    September 16, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Al

      At least there is one sensible person here. Nobody seems to consider the logistics of delivering the fuel to these people, many of whom have never even seen money. I have worked for NGO's in Africa and the people there mostly do not want to become more westernized. They are happy living the traditional lives that their parents lived. It seems such a shame to impose western technology on them.

      September 16, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • thisdress

      you don't have to hook them up to a grid or explosive gas. Wood gas stove GASSIFY wood (i.e. turn wood into gas) and then use that gas as fuel. There is little to no smoke because the smoke is nearly-completed combusted. You use much less wood to generate the same amount of energy output, there is little to no smoke, the pot and air stay clean, woman don't have to collect as much wood. And like someone else already mention it's simple and cheap to build. Why be so cynical?

      September 17, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  15. steve

    There shouldn't be a 'problem' much longer with the 'cooking smoke' – they won't have anything to cook so problem solved! Now, what about that 'starvation' death toll????

    September 16, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  16. AGeek

    3 billion households ..and they want to place 100 million stoves. 0.3%.assuming each household has just one stove. The scope of the solution, while noble, pales in the scope of the problem.

    September 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • brospeed2001

      Just have to point out that your math is a little off:
      First of all, 100 million from 3 billion is 3.333%, not 0.3%
      Secondly, it's 3 billion people, not households, so if you take an average of 6 people per household in the developing world (and there are probably sometimes more than that per household), then you're looking at 100 million new stoves out of 500 million households, which would be in fact a solution to 20% of the problem; still not a solution for the majority, but I'd say it's a pretty good start.

      September 16, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
      • bill mahr the idiot

        so we as taxpayers could kick in another 200 million dollars and hillarys fearmongering would work.

        September 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
      • Adam

        @ "bill mahr the idiot" if you removed the bill mahr part, your name would then be suitable for you.

        September 16, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  17. Eduardo least they aren't cooking over a 55 gallon drum full of insulated wire.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  18. just me

    My gosh.. stop being mean you all...they did not ask to be born lacking so much..

    September 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Pensera

      They think that being hard-hearted is sort of cool and cocky - shows their independence of spirit and familiarity with "the way the world works." In actuality it shows their weakness and lack of empathy. I'll bet they get really sentimental over their own kids, though. Think they're good dads and moms etc. Life has a way of humbling those types; unfortunately by the time they learn a few lessons they'll be too senile to type.

      September 17, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  19. huxley

    I wonder how they are designing it. I'd kind of like to design a cookstove for my cabin thats more efficient and less poluting than the typical stoves on the market. It's becoming a pet project of mine. High end broilers use a technology called a condenser that retains far more of the stoves heat. I'd also like to design it to act as a backup hot water heater so that I don't use up so much LP gas.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Jen

      Try looking up the "Rocket Stove" design. It's inexpensive and the basic concept can be used to create your own improved wood cooker. Other great cabin options are solar ovens and parabolic solar cookers. These are a bit more expensive, but require nothing more than direct sunlight. Happy cooking!

      September 16, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
      • huxley

        "Rocket stove" is a good design, because it incorporates a reburner and so low pollution, but it's not sealed, so it can't be used inside. It also doesn't have a condenser or a water heater. I'd like to combine all that into the perfect stove for inside use.

        September 17, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • thisdress

      I know wood gas stove is more energy efficient than a regular wood stove, but I imagine induction cooking has to be more energy efficient than wood burning stove. Once you created a flame a good 40% – 60% of the heat is still escaped into the environment, instead of heating your pans. Happy to see a fellow stovie on CNN though. I also like building stoves :-)

      September 17, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  20. JohnBoy

    Agree – just take all their ovens away and then they can't cook and then the problem (and them) will go away

    September 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Markus

      A wonderful Republican solution.

      September 19, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  21. Jez

    So just what is the West supposed to do? Bring everyone here? Everybody dies. Its a fact of life.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  22. julianpenrod

    Another example of craven corporate thug types to act to fatten their wallets under the guise of "hunanitarianism" and using the tendency of so many in the U.S. to be inherent "ugly Americans" to accomplish it!
    They talk glibly of "poorly ventilated kitchens". The smoke gets so thick and black, it blocks their vision, they're hacking and coughing and they don't think to open up some holes in the walls. "Well", think the "ugly American" "humanitarians", "they wouldn't think of that! After all, they're foreigners, and all foreigners are stupid! Otherwise, they'd be Americans!" They don't have the sense to come in out of the rain or open some holes in the walls to let thick cooking smoke out!
    And face it, that's exactly what those who would be conned by this swindle think!
    "Humanitarianism" based on the perception that anyone not born in the U.S. is a blithering moron!
    That's why we sent powdered milk to the Indians in South America whose digestion was unfit for it and it made them blind! That's why we sent Peace Corps groups, with CIA spooks embedded, to teach people who dug wells and planted for thousands of years how to dig wells and plant! That's why they sent the army into Vietnam, because the people were too stupid to realize they would be better off as wage slaves to the corporate thugs!
    And now, based on what amounts to claimed effects on 1/1500 of the Third World population, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is launched. That's .07% of the population! That's the kind of population that is claimed so small that drugs to treat them are not fiscally advantageus for pharmaceurtical houses to produce, and government won't help there, but they will push for, and pay for at taxpayer expense, 100 million at least $100 cookstoves!
    They will all have a chimney, something the foreigners were all too stupid to have thought of!
    $10 billion, and that will only be a starter!
    Next will come peddling the petrochemical waste they call "drugs" to handle the "diseases" from cookstove smoke. And then "drugs" to treat the side effects from the "drugs" to handle cookstove smoke!

    September 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  23. HaHa

    These B-tards are polluting our environment, they should be taxed as polluters.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  24. HaHa

    And some of you still argue that these people are not culturaly inferior to us. Let them die the world will be a better place.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • just me

      Put yourself on their place. I bet you wouldn't be laughing....

      September 16, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  25. Just a joke!

    Imagine the overpopulation problem we'd have otherwise! :)

    September 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  26. Normandy

    What we need to do is focus on making sure these people have half as many children in the future. That will cut the cooking smoke 50%! Not to mention other benefits to numerous to list here.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Beth

      Are you going to pay for their birth control?

      September 16, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
      • Robert Nasy

        I say if Normandy does(which he/she obv. shouldn't nor wouldn't I presume) you should pay the child support!!! Natural selection happens in every environment, it is so catty to believe that just because we are human it does not apply to us. Get real, recognize the real problems...wars/economics/your family/your country in general.....

        September 16, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
      • Lindalou

        We're paying 50million as it is..maybe birth control would cut the problem at its source.

        September 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
      • bill mahr the idiot

        maybe hillary can

        September 16, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
      • Denden@bill mahr the idiot

        Just "the idiot" will do.

        September 19, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • thisdress

      people in developing countries have more children as insurance against high mortality rate. Improvement of living standard and health care has to come first before people will be willing to do away with back up plans. Resources are wasted only if children dies prematurely.

      September 17, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  27. Robert Nasy

    Cook your food outside if its in an unpleasant, uncomfortable environment, this has been engraved in man since the beginning of time. If your coughing, feeling congested, etc. its natural to leave that area. Education/social status have no bearing on this, its basic human instincts..... #DARWIN

    September 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Jen

      I think you mean ingrained not "engraved". Also as far I am aware Darwin did not write about "basic human instincts". Also, also the fires are used for heating dwellings as well as cooking food. But thanks for the get tough 'cause I don' wanna hurt my brain contemplating difficult problems input. Problem solved! You can go back to your tea party.

      September 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  28. Jimmy Crack Corn

    Well, unfortunately we are human-beings and our maker designed us to consume food. If food isn't cooked properly we could get sick and die anyway. So, risk dying early from food poisoning or late from smoke in the air from cooked food. Choose wisely.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • thisdress

      or choose to cook food in energy efficient stoves to reduce wood consumption and air pollution ...

      September 17, 2011 at 4:06 am |
| Part of

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,974 other followers