Notes to broadcasters
Indoor air pollution can threaten the health of rural families. But there are simple steps that can be taken to prevent unnecessary risks. The following script explains what most often causes air pollution in rural homes and what steps people can take to limit their exposure to it. The appendix gives background information about improved stoves. We recommend that you research and broadcast information about improved stoves that are used locally and considered appropriate for your audience.
Do you ever get a bad cough that won’t go away? Sometimes it stays with you for days. Do your children have trouble breathing? Do your eyes sting when you are cooking? The smoke in your house could cause these problems or make them worse. In fact, air pollution in your very own home can cause or contribute to some serious illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
The air in your home is polluted by smoke from the fire or stove. Smoke from burning wood, dung, or straw may seem harmless, but it isn’t. In fact it contains harmful chemicals. When you breathe in these chemicals they harm your lungs and other parts of your body.
There are some things you can do to reduce the amount of bad air in your home. Naturally, you can’t stop cooking, but today I am going to offer a few ideas which can reduce the amount of bad air you breathe.
To start, avoid smoky areas as much as you can. Keep your children away from smoke. For example, don’t stand over the fire with your baby on your back. The smoke will float over your back directly into her face. Also, don’t allow babies or young children to play close to the fire or stove.
Next, make sure that there is a way for smoke to move quickly out of your home. Observe the patterns of smoke in the living areas. It may be possible to change the way air flows around your house so that fresh air gets into your home easily and the smoky air gets out quickly. To do this, you may need to move your fire or stove to another area. It might even require some re-building. For example, would smoke move away more quickly if the windows were bigger, or if the roof of the house was raised?
If you have a stove, check to see if it has a pipe connected to it. This pipe should lead from the stove directly to the outside of your home.
If you want to breathe better air at home, consider getting a new stove. These days there are improved stoves that save you work AND keep your family safer and healthier. With an improved stove there will be less smoke, ash, and soot in your home. Smoke will be carried outside through a chimney.
Instead of an open fire, which wastes heat, improved stoves usually have a closed fuel box. This means they produce more heat with less fuel. In other words, the food cooks faster. A stove that cooks your food faster means you spend less time cooking. Less time cooking means less smoke in the home.
Many people are experimenting with improved stoves. There are many designs to choose from. Ask your local health worker or extension officer to help you make or find an improved stove.
Using an improved stove is just one of the ways you and your family can live more comfortably. But anything you can think of that will reduce the amount of smoke you breathe will keep you and your children healthier.
Contributed by Catherine Fergusson, R.N., Toronto, Canada.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Hillman, International Health Consultant, Quebec, Canada.
- ARI News, Issue #4, 1986. Appropriate Health Resources and Technologies Action Group (AHRTAG), 29-35 Farrington Road, London, EC1M 3JB, U.K.
- “Lowering exposure of children to indoor air pollution to prevent ARI: the need for information,” Capsule Report, No. 3, January 1999. The Environmental Health Project, 1611 North Kent St. Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia, 22209-2111, U.S.A.
Appendix – Improved stoves around the world
In Burkina Faso, women are improving their three stone fires. They mix together four buckets of clay, one bucket of millet straw, half a bucket each of manure and water. Then they let it sit for one week. They place their cooking pot on three stones. Using the mixture of clay, straw and manure, they build a circular wall around the stones and the pot. They leave a small gap between the pot and the cylinder. When it dries a little, they cut a small hole in the bottom for the wood to go in. It is important to cover the stove when it rains.
In Niger, women are using the mai sauki or “fast cooker”. Skilled tinsmiths make theses stoves from scrap metal. They come in different sizes to fit small and large pots. Other metal stoves are the noflie in Gambia and the ceramic jiko in Kenya. The mai sauki burns wood. The noflie burns wood and briquettes made from peanut shells. The ceramic jiko burns charcoal. These stoves are light and easy to carry anywhere.
In Guatemala, some families are now using Ceta stoves. The Ceta stove has a concrete base, a metal frame which fits on top of the base, and a chimney. Guatemalans buy the metal frames from local blacksmiths. These frames come in different sizes to fit different sizes of pots. Local stove trainers help install Ceta stoves in people’s homes. People like the Ceta stove because it uses less firewood than an open fire, it can be moved, it is strong, and it can hold more than one pot at a time. The concrete base of the Ceta stove makes it strong, but concrete stoves usually cost more than metal or clay stoves.
Solar cookers have been developed and tested in many countries.
In India, scientists developed the Kisan solar box cooker. A pit 2 feet wide by 2 feet long is dug in the ground. Paddy husk ash, straw, newspaper, sawdust, wool or cotton can be used to insulate the sides and bottom of the pit. This insulation holds in the heat from the sun. The uncooked food is put in the pot and then the pot is covered with glass. The sun shines through the glass and cooks the food in 3 to 4 hours. Solar cookers don’t require firewood, charcoal or any kind of fuel! They just need sunlight. Many people have tried the Kisan solar box cooker and liked using it. But there are some drawbacks with solar cookers. Cooking is usually slower than with stoves that use firewood or charcoal, and solar cookers cannot be used during rainy seasons or when it is cloudy.