When you think about dangerous air pollution, the first image that comes to mind may be the smog-laden Delhi or the Beijing skyline. But indoor air pollution caused by people cooking with solid fuels inside their homes is an equally important challenge, responsible for about 4.3 million deaths worldwide each year according to the World Health Organization (WHO) — more than any other environmental cause. This is equivalent to the annual number of malaria and tuberculosis-related deaths combined.
Over 3 billion people around the world rely on solid fuels like wood, dung, and coal for cooking and heating their homes. The vast majority are low-income households in developing countries who historically have had few other affordable and reliable energy options. In India, about two thirds of the population uses these fuels for cooking (Census of India, 2011). In addition to its health consequences for women and young children, cooking with biomass fuels contributes to climate change through the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and black carbon.
Improved cooking stoves are increasingly seen as an important technology to improve respiratory health and combat climate change in developing countries. There are many different models and they are designed to reduce smoke exposure by directing smoke away from users, using less fuel, and/or putting off fewer harmful emissions. There are examples of improved cooking stove programmes dating back to the 1980s, including in India, but in recent years there has been a big push to increase their distribution and sale worldwide. For example, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020, and estimates that 28 million have between 2010 and 2014.