Use of solid fuel risks lives of housewives in South Asia

On eve of World Lung Cancer Day, Anadolu Agency takes look at use of inefficient fuels in kitchens across South Asia

Anadolu Agency July 31, 2021


A large population in South Asia is susceptible to respiratory ailments including lung cancer, as they still use wood, crop wastes, charcoal, dung and kerosene as kitchen fuel.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on eve of World Lung Cancer Day which is being observed on Sunday, Shahriar Hossain, a Bangladeshi environmentalist, said the kitchen smokes is the cause of lung cancer afflicting housewives.

He said the use of dry fuel also puts kids at risk, who are always with their mothers, when they cook food and inhale smoke.

Even at places where cooking gas cylinders are available, poor households still prefer to use the solid fuel, as they find cylinders out of their budgetary limits.

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Abdul Mannan, 27, living in south-central Bhola island district of Bangladesh, said his family had managed to procure a gas connection, but it has proved expensive.

“We have to depend on wood and a kerosene stove. In recent years, we managed to avail cooking gas cylinders with high prices but we do not use them very often as it is expensive for the poor like us," he said.

While the family of five knows the health risks of the smoke that their women inhale from the preparation of food in the kitchen, they express their helplessness, with little options available.

"People’s vulnerability has been manifold due to indoor air pollution, certainly in the kitchen,” says Hossain, who is also secretary of the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO).

He estimates that at least 200,000 people in Bangladesh could die as a result of respiratory diseases and long-term exposure to high concentrations of contaminated air.

Lung cancer in Pakistan

At the other corner of South Asia, in Pakistan 10,538 new cases of lung cancer have been diagnosed in 2020, according to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The IARC report said that lung cancer accounts for 5.9% of total cancer cases in the country.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Dr Javed Hayat, a consultant pulmonologist in Lahore, said the dung used for cooking purposes adds arsenic in fumes resulting in cough and chronic bronchitis in the female population.

“Any substance which goes through inhaling into the lungs can cause cancer in the longer term,” he said.

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Further, the late diagnosis and falling the trap of quacks decreases the survival rate of patients.

Financial aspects of LPG in India

Similarly in India, Ravindra Khaiwal, an environmental expert, said that the use of solid biomass as kitchen fuel is proving a health risk. He said women prefer to use the traditional methods of cooking in rural areas for the sake of retention of taste and save time.

He said the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) needs to be promoted to minimise the use of traditional methods of cooking.

"There are financial aspects of it as well. So, the government should try to minimize the cost and make its scheme to promote LPG more successful,“ he said.

The Indian government had launched a social welfare scheme Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) in 2016 to provide 50 million LPG connections to below poverty line (BPL) families to safeguard the health of women and children.

But a report published in a leading newspaper The Hindu claimed that a significant number of the scheme's BPL beneficiaries did not use the service beyond the initial refill, mostly due to economic reasons. As a result, a large number of dormant cylinders have been diverted for commercial use.

Quoting a survey conducting between April 2016 and December 2018, the newspaper said that as many as 35.44% of families reverted to traditional fuels mainly due to the higher price of LPG refills and the easy availability of traditional fuel.

Back in Bangladesh, Md Ashraf Uddin, director general of the Department of Environment, said the government is trying to reduce the health risk caused by kitchen fuel by supplying an improved cooking stove called Bondhu Chula.

"Six million Bondhu Chula will be supplied under a program till 2023, of which 2.25 million have already been installed,” he said.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), around 3 billion people cook using polluting open fires or simple stoves fueled by kerosene and biomass. “Each year, close to 4 million people die prematurely from illness like stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer due to household air pollution,” said the WHO report on household air pollution and health.


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