Clean household energy will boost health

Wednesday May 16 2018

wood fuel

A woman carries firewood in Nyalenda, Kisumu. Firewood is still a preferred source of fuel energy in many rural homes. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By WANJIKU MANYARA
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I read with great interest a recent article by Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki and Dr Rudolf Eggers, WHO Representative to Kenya (DN, April 17). It is laudable that the ministry is committed to knocking down communicable diseases (NCDs), given the significance in achieving universal healthcare in five years.

But the government must incorporate and implement strategies to prevent NCDs, key among them acute lower respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, some cancers and eye diseases.

WHO says exposure to indoor air pollution from charcoal, firewood and other solid cooking fuels causes the premature deaths of 4.3 million people yearly from pneumonia, chronic lung disease and lung cancer, as well as ill-health and the loss of productivity among millions more.

POLLUTION

Majority of them are women and children; women are usually responsible for cooking and small children are often close to their mothers.

Results of a 2016 study in Kenya linked indoor pollution to 14,300 deaths annually. But a clinical study in Malawi indicated that improved or clean cook stoves do not prevent child mortality from indoor pollution-related diseases. Sadly, attention is hardly given to the link between indoor pollution and child mortality, as well as low birth weight, in Kenya.

Clean cook stoves should go with clean and modern cooking energy to eliminate indoor pollution, a leading cause of cancer, pneumonia, respiratory and eye diseases. A UN-backed project to get 100 million clean cook stoves into homes, including in Kenya, is ongoing.

FOREST COVER

Besides solid cooking fuels’ contribution to NCDs, Kenya’s natural forest cover has been stripped due to the unsustainable over-reliance on wood fuel as a source of primary energy. Deforestation has caused climate change and food insecurity and poses malnutrition risks that lead to preventable illness, especially in children.

The panacea for indoor pollution is the switch from solid to clean cooking fuels. Indeed,  Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 7 calls for governments to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy.

To paraphrase the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All in a speech at last year’s Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves Conference, clean cooking is the golden thread that rounds up multiple SDGs — health, education and environmental protection.

CREATE AWARENESS

The Ministry of Mining and Petroleum should create awareness in, especially, the ministries of Environment, Health, Education and National Treasury on the available clean cooking fuel solutions that, if accessible and affordable, will resolve Kenya’s problems of disease, death, deforestation and food insecurity, which emanate from cooking with charcoal, firewood and kerosene.

They should then promote policies and laws to ensure clean cooking energy choices are available across the country.

Kenya Revenue Authority and the National Assembly should ensure liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or cooking gas, remains zero-rated as the alternative cooking fuel for households who will not afford LPG if it is not VAT-exempt is charcoal, firewood and kerosene.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

For developing countries, LPG is a transition fuel to electrification and renewable energy sources just as compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) is for the developed nations. Kenya should not be bullied into the deception that LPG is a fossil fuel and CNG and LNG are not.

Donors, financiers and the private sector need to focus on the social returns of investing in clean energy cooking solutions. Undoubtedly, clean cooking equals healthy and wealthy people as well as an environment that is securely conserved.

Ms Manyara is general manager, Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA). [email protected]