From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published November 15, 2011 10:19 AM

Cooking Stoves in Developing Nations Linked to Pneumonia

In many developing nations around the world, cooking is primarily done over a wood-burning fire pit. It is estimated that this is the primary cooking and heating source for 43% of the global population, about 3 billion people. A team of international researchers have found that pneumonia is linked with young children who are continuously exposed to the smoke from cooking fires. They found that if smoke-reducing chimneys are used on the cooking stoves, cases of severe pneumonia can be reduced by one-third.


Cooking fires are perhaps the type of air pollution that directly impacts human health, because its emissions take place right next to people’s breathing zones. The fires used in developing countries are almost always open flames with no real chimney. The researchers found that children who are exposed every day to the smoke, inhaled the equivalent of smoking three to five cigarettes a day.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Liverpool, University of California, Berkeley, and from del Valle, Guatemala. The team spent time in the rural communities in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, working with households which had pregnant women or young infants.

Some households were given a woodstove with a chimney and others continued using open fires. They found that cases of severe pneumonia were reduced one third for the households with the chimneys. A smaller decrease was reported for all cases of pneumonia, severe and non-severe. This is likely due to the reduction of smoke not being completely sufficient.

According to Dr. Nigel Bruce from the University of Liverpool, "Pneumonia is the chief cause of death for children aged five years or under worldwide, responsible for about 20% of total deaths in these age groups. It is caused by viral and bacterial infections. Smoke from burning solid fuels, such as wood and animal dung, reduces the lung's defences against infections, particularly bacterial.

"Increasing awareness of the effects of woodsmoke on health will help us to significantly reduce the numbers of cases of severe pneumonia, as well as respiratory disease in adults. The use of open fires and inefficient traditional stoves for cooking is also a cause of burns and can have a negative impact on the environment and increase pressures on natural resources."

The study was published in the journal, Lancet.

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Image credit: William Rudolph

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