Humble cookstoves reduce deadly toll of smoke

Nearly half the world’s households, around three billion people worldwide, eat food cooked on traditional stoves and fires that kill around 1.6 million people a year ---- most of them children. A new report says that a global programme to produce half a billion improved stoves could convert the world’s poor to safer cooking, save hundreds of thousands of young lives a year, and at the same time cut global greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of up to one billion tonnes of CO2 a year.

Traditional, inefficient stoves make kitchens highly dangerous for the world’s most vulnerable people - women and children’s lungs in particular are subjected to a toxic mix of smoke and gases, leading to a silent epidemic of disease. Household smoke is a major cause of childhood pneumonia, the biggest cause of death among children worldwide, and is strongly linked to chronic lung disease among women.

Cooking fires and stoves are also significant contributors to climate change, through their emissions of CO2, other gases and particulates. Soot is now thought to be responsible for up to a fifth of the warming effect of man-made pollution.

The report, ‘Stoking up a cookstove revolution: the secret weapon against poverty and climate change’ published by the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, gives many examples of stoves programmes across the developing world that provide affordable, robust ‘improved’ stoves that burn less fuel, cook faster and approximately halve harmful smoke emissions. Many use a chimney to remove smoke and gases from the kitchen, improving combustion.

“Efficient stoves are the most direct and affordable way to address climate change, but we need millions and millions of them,” says Dean Still, director of Aprovecho Research Center in Oregon, USA.

There are still hurdles to overcome, says the report. Each improved stove must be designed for local cooking practices and diets and studies show that cultural patterns sometimes prevent their easy acceptance and adoption. According to the Ashden Awards it is essential to use social marketing and education to introduce the stoves sensitively and ensure they are designed according to local cooks’ needs and preferences.

Many clean stoves are designed by social entrepreneurs for local manufacture, and non governmental organisations usually provide training to ensure they meet quality standards. Grameen Shakti in Bangladesh, for example, trains local technicians who build stoves in people’s homes, aiming to provide 10 million stoves in this way by 2015.

Substantial investment and support is needed to reach the half billion people who need efficient stoves.

The report suggests that the carbon market can play a useful role in stove programme investment: “We calculate that improved cooking stoves can keep a tonne of CO2 out of the atmosphere for as little as $1 to $3 – an exceedingly good deal in a market where offsets can be sold for $20 to 30 a tonne,” says Fred Pearce, author of the report.

“We think the time has come for greater finance and political will to roll out stoves. Just as donors have grasped the value of rolling out bed-nets against malaria, we want to see improved stoves make a real impact on the poor. Better stoves improve health, save lives, help mitigate the effects of climate change while also saving money,” says Sarah Butler-Sloss founder director of the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy.


Notes to editors:
The Ashden Awards have recognised and supported advancing designs for improved stoves for 10 years. Already 18 stove programmes in Africa, Asia and Latin America have won awards, most of which have gone on to expand and develop.

For further information and a PDF of the report, “Stoking up a cook-stove revolution: the secret weapon against poverty and climate change” written by Fred Pearce, contact Juliet Heller +44 (0)1621 868083 or +44 (0)7946 616150

Dr Anne Wheldon, Technical Director of the Ashden Awards, along with spokespersons from stove programmes in Mexico, the USA and China, is available for advance interview this week.

A selection of hi-res photos is available on Flickr or on request.

Visit for films and case studies on over 100 Ashden Award winners searchable by country or technology.

You can find all the examples used in the report on our website.

Read our report: Stoking up a cookstove revolution (pdf)