Cooking is essential. It shouldn’t be lethal.
Every day three billion people, many of whom are women and girls, are exposed to toxic household air pollution from cooking smoke, and in India, more than 1 million people die from this exposure every year. Approximately 700 million people in India still use solid fuels in traditional chulhas for cooking, and the smoke contributes to a range of acute and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as cataracts and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Women and young children are the most exposed and susceptible.
The reality is that the seemingly simple act of cooking a meal constitutes one of the most significant health and environmental challenges in the world today. Women are primarily responsible for managing and securing household energy and therefore bear the brunt of energy poverty. So why aren’t these stoves and fuels getting to Indians all over the country? The simple answer is that the public isn’t aware of the issue or the fact that solutions exist.
The good news is that the solutions are available right here in India. The technology, fuels, manufacturing and distribution capacity, and innovative financing mechanisms exist today ensuring that no one has to risk their lives to cook for their families.
It is heartening to see that in addition to private sector led efforts, the government has also continued its commitment through the MNRE National Biomass Cookstove Initiative along with many national and international actors who are working to support these ongoing Indian efforts. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is working with the thriving and growing set of private sector and NGO actors in the Indian sector to scale adoption of clean cooking solutions. The Alliance is a public-private partnership of over 900 organizations, including over 160 partners in India, working to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment through the creation of a thriving global market for clean cookstoves and fuels.
Our efforts are focused on supporting the existing, active Indian cooking industry that includes manufacturers and distributors and a wide variety of local NGOs and women organizations. India is home to the largest number of women’s networks and self-help groups in the world and Indian women are already leading the charge in defining this new realm of women’s energy entrepreneurship. Women are playing an active role at every stage in the clean cooking value chain – from design and production, to distribution and after-sales service.
While many gains have been made over the past 20 years for women and girls, they remain on the frontlines – the first responders to some of life’s most difficult and dangerous moments. Women and girls are the first to feel the impacts of poverty – which are exacerbated by a lack of access to household energy. They are the first to be removed from school if firewood collection or cooking needs to be done, who walk further and further distances carrying extremely heavy loads when deforestation occurs, and are forced to inhale the thick toxic smoke emitted during cooking. Fully utilizing women’s expertise, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit can release untapped potential and lead to new approaches. Women represent a powerful force that must be leveraged if the vision of sustainable energy for all in India is to be fulfilled.
The writer is Radha Muthiah, Chief Executive Officer, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves