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1.3 Million Deaths Every Year In India Due To Indoor Air Pollution

A policy which makes the users of traditional stoves incentivized to switch to this fuel will prevent them from using traditional biomass fuels such as firewood, cow-dung, and crops etc., which have negative environmental and health consequences

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Indoor air pollution is the degradation of indoor air quality by harmful chemicals and other materials; it can be up to 10 times worse than outdoor air pollution. This is because contained areas enable potential pollutants to build up more than open spaces. Statistics suggest that in developing countries, health impacts of indoor air pollution far outweigh those of outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution from solid fuels accounted for 3.5 million deaths and 4.5% global daily-adjusted life year (DALY) in 2010; it also accounted for 16% particulate matter pollution. Though there has been a decrease in household air pollution from solid fuels in south-east Asia, still it ranked third among risk factors in the report of the Global Burden of Disease. In India, out of 0.2 billion people using fuel for cooking; 49% use firewood; 8.9% cow dung cake; 1.5% coal, lignite, or charcoal; 2.9% kerosene; 28.6% liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); 0.1% electricity; 0.4% biogas; and 0.5% any other means. Among the 70% of the country's rural population, about 80% households rely on biomass fuel making India to top the list of countries with the largest population lacking access to cleaner fuel for cooking.
Poor indoor air quality is the second largest killer with 1.3 million deaths in India each year.

With empirical studies from Peru, Kenya, Nepal and Bangladesh highlighting indoor pollution as a serious health hazard, it becomes increasingly important to address challenges associated with indoor cooking especially in rural areas (which comprises a major portion of India’s population), where inefficient, polluting, traditional cooking methods need to undergo a paradigm shift to combat these challenges.

Some of the challenges faced with improving indoor air quality are

1) Heterogeneous and variable choice of fuel for combustion in traditional stoves, depending on local availability makes it difficult to monitor or execute programs to alter the behaviour of people to switch to more eco-friendly fuels. As per surveys, the women who generally use traditional, polluting stoves choose the fuel based on cheapness and availability, without taking into consideration other dimensions of the fuel usage, most importantly, factors in fuel-use which cause air pollution.

2) Lower rate of adoption of non-traditional stoves due to lack of technological insight into their benefits, design complications, higher maintenance costs, higher price-elasticity (making non- traditional stoves extremely price sensitive), which make the users of traditional stoves more accustomed to continue using traditional methods of cooking. This challenge also stems from the fact that the right type of incentives have not been designed taking into account the mindset and behavioural patterns of traditional stove users, making the adoption rate of the improved non-traditional stoves lower (with their benefits not being completely realized)

3) Lack of understanding (on the part of policy makers) of behaviour patterns, consumption expenditure patterns and psycho-social factors which impact traditional cooking stove choices and methods to obtain fuel. If policymakers had a better insight into the contextual, technological and psychosocial factors which make a woman in a particular village continue to use traditional methods of cooking, despite wide-spread availability of Clean-Stove- Programs, they would be able to improve these programs to incentivize these users in the right manner to switch to eco-friendly, healthier and more efficient methods of cooking.

4) Lack of knowledge of the traditional stove users of the explicit and latent benefits of non- traditional, efficient, less-polluting stoves. I believe that the perception which most users of traditional stoves in low-income households is a major deterrent in combating indoor-air pollution. The health and environmental hazards, which have long-run implications are often not realized or discarded by traditional stove users, who seem unabashed to the negative health consequences associated with continued exposure to smoke from traditional stoves. This is the reason why there is a lower adoption rate for non-traditional stoves, as the benefits of such an adoption are not realized in most cases, and the users typically try to minimize their short-run cost by taking the risk of adopting the long-run costs associated with environmental degradation(due to inefficient biomass burning and forest depletion) and health hazard (due to continued exposure to excess smoke generated by traditional stoves), through sticking to the traditional cooking methods.

Some policy measures which could address the problem of indoor air-pollution are

1) Large-scale distribution of subsidized fuel such as LPG or some other eco-friendly fuel which generates lesser smoke is more efficient in terms of energy generated per unit of combustion and reduces financial and time-cost of the users. A policy which makes the users of traditional stoves incentivized to switch to this fuel will prevent them from using traditional biomass fuels such as firewood, cow-dung, and crops etc., which have negative environmental and health consequences. Currently, with the traditional ways, almost 70% or more of the biomass fuel is wasted, and leads to accumulation of more indoor pollutants, thus increasing the need for a better, more efficient fuel, due to which there needs be a policy intervention to institute its wide-spread availability and cheap price.

2) Incorporation of local norms, traditions and practices into the technological up-gradation of traditional stoves, so as to accommodate behavioural patterns of the traditional users, while minimizing environmental and health costs. As most of the victims of indoor-pollution in rural areas continue to use traditional methods due to local traditions and cultural reasons too, it is important the design of improved stoves needs to incorporate traditional factors into its making, so it makes it easier for the users to maintain them or repair them, or even adopt them with a higher adoption rate. This design also needs to incorporate the principles of health-safety and environmental friendliness along with the mindset of the users, and the psychosocial, resource and contextual factors responsible for their choice of the method of cooking.

3) There needs to be widespread awareness through promotional campaigns and dissemination of information on the health hazards and environmental impact of traditional stoves, so the users of these stoves (which are normally low-income, illiterate households, mostly women with very less formal education) are aware of the long-run cost to their health and the environment around them due to the continued practice of traditional indoor biomass cooking and local fuel extraction. Once the behaviour and consumption patterns of the traditional stove users is properly understood by policy makers through extensive surveys the urgency to educate the masses about the health and environmental hazards of traditional cooking will become increasingly important, as in most cases the users are not aware, or do not prioritize the health or environmental impact of traditional biomass cooking at all, perhaps due to constraints such as finances, awareness and availability of choices. Thus it becomes increasingly important to provide information to these users about the negative effects of long term usage of traditional stoves (in terms of environmental damage due to traditional fuel collection methods of cutting trees for firewood etc.) and the long term health damage due to perpetual exposure to smoke and indoor air-pollution by traditional stoves.

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