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Preventing 95,000 deaths from firewood cooking (1)

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It was startling when the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that about 95, 000 women and children die annually in Nigeria as a result of smoke from firewood. Experts say smoke inhaled by women while cooking is equivalent of smoking between three and 20 packets of cigarettes a day. Government should make efforts to enhance clean cooking methods to prevent more deaths, writes CHINAKA OKORO

 

Mrs Nwokenkwo Ihemezu has been asthmatic before she got married to Mr Ekwenike Ihemezu few years back. She had been on drugs to prevent incessant crises. Her inhaler was always handy.

Mindful of her health condition and the fact that her family cooks with firewood, her parents never allowed her to cook since there was the likelihood of her experiencing health crisis should she inhale smoke. Her health condition was well managed.

However, being married and going by societal norms and traditional beliefs, it is the duty of the wife to cook for her husband. Unable to open up to the husband concerning her health status, she tried to play her traditional role as wife. She entered the kitchen, made the fire with firewood. As the fire blazed, it produced smoke which triggered her asthmatic crisis.

A double-burner LPG cooking Gas
A double-burner LPG cooking Gas

She made efforts to reach her inhaler but could not; and there was no one around to help. Her chest bunged, she slumped and died.

Mrs Ihemezu’s case is one out of thousands of pathetic stories involving women and children, who have died as a result of cooking with firewood- the traditional way of cooking in the society for ages.

Due to ignorance and lack of adequate sensitisation to the dangers of cooking with firewood, those using firewood never appreciated the health hazards that result from exposure to its smoke.

Those, who erroneously believe that foods cooked with firewood or other old-style, are tastier than those cooked with stove or gas, have helped in exacerbating the problem. They insist that their wives or female children must cook their foods on kindling.

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That explains why many women have remained stuck to the age-long tradition of cooking over open fire stoves. They have no choice because as part of the societal and religious constructs, women are still exclusively saddled with the responsibility of cooking for their families.

Repeated thrice every day for months and years, this hazardous firewood smoke that emits from traditional cooking method has caused the death of several women. Cooking with firewood is not only affecting Nigerian women, it is also endangering the planet with the global climate change the world is trying to contain.

A United Nations’ Conference on Human Environment noted that “a time has come in history when we must shape our actions with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences. Through ignorance or indifference, we can do massive and irreversible harm to the earthly environment on which our life and well-being depend”.

“Conversely, through fuller knowledge and wiser action, we can achieve for ourselves and our posterity a better life in keeping with human needs and hopes…”

This warning seems to inform environmental experts’ alarm that “our environment is constantly under threat; and evidence has shown that it equally has numerous problems facing it.

Alarmed by the above, efforts are being made by experts, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to find ways of mitigating or preventing actions that would have uncomplimentary impacts on the environment and the well-being of humankind.

These efforts may not be unconnected to a startling report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2012, which revealed that “over 95,000 women die in Nigeria annually from the use of firewood. Prior to that, Nigeria and Nigerians never realised that they lose their women and children in such magnitude.

The report added that “if a woman inhales smoke while cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is equivalent to smoking between three and 20 packets of cigarettes a day”.

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To corroborate the WHO’s report and underscore how dangerous cooking with firewood and other heating means could be, Kirk Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California at Berkeley, said: “A typical wood fire is about 400 cigarettes an hour worth of smoke.”

To this end, the United Nations’ sustainable energy goal (SDG7) that aims at ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, also aimed at bringing clean cooking solutions to those who do not have access to them.

Tagged: “Dirty cooking”, experts claimed that “the smoke generated by firewood exposes women to diseases such as tuberculosis and lung cancer. “Cooking smoke causes respiratory, cardiovascular and other illnesses that have been discovered to be responsible for many premature and preventable deaths annually in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Studies have also shown that aside from the adverse effects of dirty energy on human health and the environment, energy poverty also slows down socio-economic development.

Experts in environmental matters posit that “indoor air pollution from cooking with solid fuels including wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung, and crop waste in open fires and traditional stoves is the fourth leading cause of death in the world, after heart and lung disease and respiratory infection”.

It is inconsequential to think that dirty cooking results only in destroying the environment and causing climate change. Its unimaginable health implications should be of grave disquiet to any responsible and responsive government.

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This is so because “the release of particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other harmful products of incomplete combustion from solid fuel cooking are strongly linked to acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, cataract and low birth weights”.

“Sufficient evidence also exist that asthma, tuberculosis, pediatric sleep disorders, depression and bacterial meningitis are closely associated with cooking with coal, firewood, dung and crop waste, including widespread minor ailments from smoke inhalation such as eye irritation and headaches.”

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In its commitment to prevent the effects of dirty cooking with firewood on people, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), in a new partnerships to save billions from ill effects of dirty fuels said in its September 23, 2019 report released in New York that: “New initiatives announced on Sunday (September 22) aimed at urgently bringing clean cooking solutions to the three billion people worldwide, who still rely on dirty, inefficient fuels such as biomass and kerosene for their cooking energy.

“These dirty cooking methods not only contribute to deforestation and climate change, but also expose their users to dangerous levels of air pollution, which result in about four million deaths each year, mostly among women and children.”

“To counter this dangerous trend, UN DESA, together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Development Programme, (UNDP) and the World Bank, has launched the Health and Energy Platform of Action, which will help countries strengthen the co-operation between their health, energy and other sectors.”

On its part, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration does not pretend that all is well in relation to the dangers traditional cooking methods pose to the citizens, especially women and children. He has not relented efforts towards evolving clean cooking methods in Nigeria.

For instance, in 2016 at the Nigeria Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) Association Conference, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo reeled off the administration’s gas policy.

He said: “The gas policy aims at stimulating a gas-based industrialisation. While this is a noble goal, let there be a transition to clean cooking for millions of Nigerians before we can move to industrialisation. The low LPG penetration needs to be addressed and very quickly too.”

 

  • To be concluded

 

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