5 lakh deaths in India alone due to unclean cooking fuels - Seeker's Thoughts

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5 lakh deaths in India alone due to unclean cooking fuels

5 lakh deaths in India alone due to unclean cooking fuels

A large section of Indians, especially women and girls, are exposed to severe household air pollution from the use of solid fuels such as biomass, dung cake and coal for cooking.  A report from the Ministry of Health & Family welfare places household air pollution as the second leading risk factor contributing to India’s disease burden.
A lady cooking on Chulha

According to the world health organization, solid fuel use is responsible for about 13% of all mortality and morbidity in India (measured as disability-Adjusted Life years), and causes about 40% of all pulmonary disorders, nearly 30% of cataract incidences, and over 20% each of ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and lower respiratory infection.
Near about 5 lakh deaths in India alone due to unclean cooking fuels. Most of these premature deaths were due to non-communicable diseases. Indoor air pollution is also responsible for a significant number of acute respiratory illnesses in young children. According to experts, having an open fire in the kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour.
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Air pollution kills more Indians than any other risk factor with estimates ranging from 15 to 20 lakh premature deaths annually. Although outdoor air pollution garners most public attention it is well-known in health circle that pollution from chulhas is about half of the problem because people in households are directly exposed to such pollution.

Indian government initiative for LPG connections
The Ujjwala Yojana launched in 2016, to give subsidies and LPG connections for rural households by providing a free gas cylinder, regulators and pipe. Under the scheme, an adult woman member of a below poverty line family identifies through the socio –economic caste census is given a deposit-free LPG connection with financial assistance of RS – 1,600 per connection by the centre.
Eligible households indentified by consultation with state governments and Union Territories. The scheme was implemented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

What was the objective of the scheme?
1-    Empowering women and protecting their heath.

2- Reducing the serious health hazards associated with cooking based on fossil fuel.

3-  Reducing the number of deaths in India due to unclean cooking fuel.
4-   Preventing young children from significant number of acute respiratory illness caused due to indoor air pollution by burning the fossil fuel.

What research institute for compassionate economics report revealed about the scheme?
According to the new study from research institute for compassionate economics (r.i.c.e) Shows that 85% of ujjwala beneficiaries in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan still use solid fuels for cooking, due to financial reasons as well as gender inequalities.
The survey, conducted in late 2018, covered a random sample of 1,550 households in 11 districts of the four states, which collectively have two-fifths of the country’s rural population.
Central government data shows that more than six crore households have received a connection through the scheme. And the r.i.c.e study shows that in the four states surveyed, there has indeed been a substantial increase in LPG ownership due to the scheme, with 76% of households now owing an LPG connection.
More than 98% of theses households also own a chulha. Surveyors asked if food items-roti, rice, sabzi, dal, chai and milk had been cooked on the chulha or the gas stove on the previous day. 

                                                                     Credits - the hindu

Key issues and concerns
Surveyors found that only 27% of households exclusively used the gas stove. Another 37% reported using both the chulha and the gas stove, while 36% made everything on the chulha.
Those who received LPG connection from the government; almost 53% exclusively used the chulha, while 32% used both.
Ujjwala beneficiaries are poorer, on average, than households who got LPG on their own refilling the cylinder is a greater fraction of their monthly consumption, and they may be less likely to get a refill immediately after a cylinder becomes empty.
Another important factor surveyors found is gender inequalities. They found that almost 70% of households do not spend anything in solid fuels, meaning that relative cost of an LPG cylinder refill, even if subsidized, is far higher. Women are more likely to make dung cakes, and while men are more likely to cut wood, women are often the ones collecting and carrying it. The study argues that these women, who do the unpaid labour needed for “free” solid fuels, are not typically economics decision-makers in the household, hindering a shift to LPG usage.
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In survey respondents agreed that it was easier to cook on a gas stove, but felt that food cooked in the chulha – especially rotis – while 70% of respondents thought that gas stove was better for the health of the cook.

 More than 86% felt that cooking on the chulha was better for the health of those eating, reflecting ignorance of the fact that ambient air pollution is harmful even to those who are not cooking the food.

A way forward
Truly smokeless kitchens can be realized only if the government follows up with measures that go beyond connections to actual usage of LPG. This may require concerted efforts cutting across ministries beyond petroleum and natural gas and including those of health, rural development and women and child welfare.
Government needs to re-look at their connection focused approach, and should ensure adequate provisions for affordability, availability and accountability.
The programme has been successful in introducing a sense of urgency into the transition to modern cooking fuels and disbursing connections. But it has been less successful in introducing a sustained change because of issues around affordability and reliability of LPG supply.
There is a need to go beyond subsiding connections and fuel costs and focus on issue of cash flow, gender inequality, awareness, availability and administration. Only such a comprehension approach will help poor household have better life.

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