2.6 billion people do not cook cleanly or sustainably

2.6 billion people do not cook cleanly or sustainably

Energy transition in developing countries

16-06-2022 · Background

It will not be an easy thing, getting the Dutch to stop using gas, but the greatest challenge of the energy transition lies in developing countries. Just take all those dirty cooking appliances in the slums and countryside, emitting as much CO2 as all aeroplanes worldwide.

Many attempts have been made since the nineteen-seventies to rid the inhabitants and those in the countryside of their contaminating cookers, because of the environment but also the health of, mainly, women and small children, who sit amid the smoke while food is being prepared. They run a higher risk of bronchial illnesses such as COPD and lung cancer. 

Philips is one of the many businesses and organisations that at one time made special cookers, but they were not well received, if only for the reason that they cost too much. Ten years ago, the UM institute Caphri and Zuyd Hogeschool together designed cheap cookers. “They emitted 90 per cent less particular matter,” says researcher Esther Boudewijns, “but the combustion process could be more effective. That is now being worked on. Subsequently, we want to distribute them in the Indian slums of Bangalore.”

Clean cooking is part of the UN’s so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), contained in objective 7: reliable, affordable, sustainable and modern energy for everyone. At the moment, 2.6 billion people do not have access to that. “The SDG objectives must be achieved before 2030, but as far as clean cooking is concerned, we are lagging behind. If we continue at this pace, 2.4 billion people will still not have clean cooking by 2030.”

This is because the population sometimes grows faster than progress is made, which especially applies to sub-Saharan Africa. Modern energy includes, among others, biogas, ethanol, electricity and LPG.

Seasonal workers

All too often, the idea was that if the appliances are technically okay, all will be well. But it isn’t that simple. What should you look out for in particular? Boudewijns, PhD candidate from the department of GP Medicine, made a checklist that will be published today in The Lancet Planetary Health journal. A checklist sounds like a list that you would put together in an afternoon, but things are a little different here. Boudewijns sifted through more than 9,111 articles to eventually be left with 31 reviews or overview studies. The research was carried out by LUMC together with Makerere University (in Uganda).

It won’t be a surprise to anyone that the success of this type of project is dependent, in the first place, on the cost. Not just the cost of the cookers, but also fuel prices and maintenance costs. Can people continue to manage the payments in the long term? Also, what if they are seasonal workers, who have more income at certain times of the year than at other times? “These are matters that you cannot influence,” says Boudewijns, “but you have to be aware of them.”

The same applies to a total of fifteen items, including local ideas and convictions. “Sometimes people don’t think of coughing as something bad, but that it just is part of life. In general, medical reasons have less weight than economic ones. If this new way of cooking is cheaper, or has more status, people will be quicker to make the switch. It is also essential that local politicians, or the leader of the slums or local role models recommend the cookers. This would make a world of difference.”

Work floor

Organisations for development co-operation are not subscribers to The Lancet, she says. “The fact that my article is in it, is great for me, but in practice it won’t mean much. That is why I am negotiating with parties such as the umbrella of many of these organisations. I hope that they put the checklist on their website. Then maybe my conclusions may reach the work floor.”

Photo: archive Boudewijns

Categories: Science

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