Tackling Household Air Pollution: The Kerasawara Stove Project
by Lisa Gendall and Nat Crewe
During our February BPM visit to Kerasawara, we were tasked with conducting a small research study to gather data on health, hygiene, nutrition, sanitation and food production.
Our main focus area was the incidence of smoke inhalation that occurs due to cooking with firewood inside village households, however we also wanted to know how well the community were faring in terms of their incidence of chronic disease and acute illness, their nutritional status, whether they had enough food, their access to toilets and cleaning facilities and any other health concerns.
Our focus on household air pollution (HAP) was directed by World Health Organization reports that 4.3 Million people worldwide die each year from the effects of HAP from “dirty” cooking stoves.
We knew certain facts about Nepal as a nation: it is ranked as the 19th poorest country in the world, 25% of the population are now living below the poverty line and it has one of the highest incidences of mortality from HAP (400-610/ per million). But we wanted to know more: in particular, how this problem was affecting our community.
Since BPM began working in Kerasawara in 2012, HAP was anecdotally identified as a significant problem (every volunteer has experienced sitting with the villagers as they cook and choking on smoke!). However, due to the rural setting, scarcity of resources and lack of electricity, we suspected the incidence of HAP in the community to be higher than the national average.
And so we set to work.
As a small group (and with the assistance of our fantastic interpreters!) we visited each household in the village. We must have consumed countless liters of tea and climbed thousands of vertical meters as we spent 40-60 minutes with each family- gathering data and performing brief health assessments (including respiratory), to assess the impact of this problem.
Of the 33 houses we visited here is a
snapshot of what we found:
- 100% of households (33) reported difficulty breathing or respiratory and eye irritations during cooking
- 33% of households had at least one family member who experienced a chronic, recurrent cough; 9% had had an episode of coughing up blood
- 64% of households cook in a shared living space (i.e. the same area where family members live and sleep). The remaining 36% have a separate kitchen within the dwelling but still suffer from smoke inhalation.
- Current data cannot show a direct correlation between open fires and respiratory illness within Kerasawara village, however it has been noted that many villagers suffer symptoms associated with smoke related disease such as cataracts and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- On overage each household uses 10kgs of firewood per day.
- Happily… every household in the village had accessed the Moonlight Community Healthcare Clinic in some capacity over the last 12 months for specific ailments, general checkups, serious health concerns, education, or simply to socialise!.
Of course, we weren’t surprised to find out that in the community, most of the cooking is done by the women over an open fire within their dwelling. Therefore, it is this demographic that is most directly affected by HAP.
We were surprised to find, however, that 64% of the households cook in a shared living space (i.e. the same area where family members live & sleep), which means that- like it or not- the whole family is being passively affected by HAP. The remaining 36% of households had separate kitchens within the dwelling but still suffered with smoke inhalation. We only found one household that had a temporary kitchen built outside the dwelling.
On overage each household uses 10kgs of firewood per day! All this wood is sourced locally with families often having to travel an hour a day to find wood, depending on what trees they have on their own land. There was an almost universal concern about fuel supply going forward and the villagers were very aware that wood is becoming scarcer and more difficult to get a hold of.
Without exception every household described difficulties breathing whilst cooking was taking place. This included symptoms such as constant coughing, restricted breathing and eye irritation (stinging, redness and watering). We noted that each room had blackened walls and ceilings due to wood smoke and that some villagers were very concerned about fire hazards.
Before embarking on this small research project we had, of course, considered how we would fix the problem. As a group, Backpacker Medics aims to address the problem of HAP in the Kerasawara community by partnering with The Himalayan Stove Project to fund and install fuel efficient chimney stoves in all village homes.
The Himalayan Stove Project is a US-based charity with a proven track-record. They have facilitated the installation of more than 3000 stoves in communities across Nepal.
Therefore, we discussed the prospect of installing these stoves with every family we met. When presented with the option of replacing their existing open fire with a stove that not only eliminates smoke from the cooking area (via a chimney to the outside) but also reduces fuel (wood) consumption by 70%, every household (except one who were concerned about the initial cost), were extremely enthusiastic to make the switch. Most of the villagers were willing to pay NRs2500 towards acquiring and installing the stoves, further confirming that most of them were already concerned about their health.*
With our research complete, we returned to Australia determined to see if we could make a difference. The stoves cost U$150 to manufacture (including transport costs) and the “outfitting model” we devised as a group would be to have a number of villagers trained in correct installation techniques and then pay them a small wage to install the stoves and educate each of the families on correct use.
After a lot of discussion, we all decided that a Reforestation Programme would be a fantastic supplement to the Stove Project- therefore we aim to purchase around 2000 native trees for planting throughout the village. We will use a similar model to train some villagers in forestry techniques so that the trees grow healthily and quickly.
When all is said and done, we know that we need to raise $6000 to supply and install a smokeless stove into each household, complete the replanting programme and provide training and income streams to a number of villagers. To this end we have established a crowdfunding campaign to support the project (The Kerasawara Stove Project) and we are actively seeking project sponsors.
Whilst we know it is going to take a little bit of hard work and some shameless promotion to raise the funds for this project, we also know that- ultimately- it is going to significantly change hundreds of lives!
If you would like to help, please visit the Kerasawara Stove Project Crowdfunding Page.
*Note: more recently we have been informed that at a community meeting was held to discuss concerns and now 100% of village families are onboard!