A recent study shows that the environmental impact of firewood and dung as cooking fuel has been hitherto underestimated.
Majority of people in the villages of Karnataka are still dependent on firewood as cooking fuel. This number is the largest of all southern Indian states.
The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data of 2011-12 shows that out of 1000 households in rural Karnataka, 805 use firewood for cooking. This number stands at 583 for Tamil Nadu and 675 for Andhra Pradesh.
A recent study conducted by researchers at University of Washington, St Louis, USA, showed that the smoke emitted from cook stoves for both cooking and heating had a definite, detrimental environmental impact.
“Our project findings quantitatively show that particulate emissions from cook-stoves in India have been underestimated,” said Rajan Chakrabarty, assistant professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering, Washington University.
The use of cook stoves doesn’t only have an adverse environmental impact but also affects the health of all the people who inhale it. A report published on the World Health Organization website says that inhaling smoke from an open fire in the kitchen was equivalent to burning 400 cigarettes in an hour.
From the Kalaghatgi taluk of Dharwad district, Vijay Wadekar, a shopkeeper said, “Most of the people use firewood. I use it too. It is cheap and taking an LPG connection is expensive. We use chullahs and we have grown up seeing chullahs being used all the time.”
“I cannot afford LPG gas. So we use firewood as fuel. Nearly 30 families live around me; and we all use firewood or dung. It does become suffocating when it is burnt as our kitchens are too small and the smoke spreads quickly,” said Mirasab, a tempo driver in Mundargi taluk of Gadag district.
“Most of the initial initiatives to improve cook stoves promoted in the 1980s and 1990s in India were focused on enhancing stove energy efficiency and not necessarily on reducing emissions or exposure to smoke. But evidence from an increasing number of studies in India is paving the way for health-centric interventions,” explains Prof. Kalpana Balakrishnan from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai.