COVID-19: a new challenge for clean cooking progress in Kenya

Cooking on solid fuels exposes people to toxic pollutants. JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP via Getty Images

Over 90% of the 238 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa’s informal settlements, rely upon solid fuels for cooking, heating, and lighting their homes. These fuels include wood, charcoal, dung and straw. They’re typically gathered or traded locally and burned on open fires, generating toxic pollutants.

The most harmful of these pollutants is known as fine Particulate Matter or PM2.5. When inhaled, these particles are so tiny that they can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing damage to the blood vessels and increasing the risk of heart and lung diseases. Indoor levels of pollution generated in biomass fuel homes – which are typically poorly ventilated – frequently exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and are hazardous to human health.

Typically, as the income of a household rises, occupants transition towards cleaner domestic energy alternatives – such as liquid petroleum gas or electricity. In the process of moving along the “energy ladder” households may use “transition” fuels, such as charcoal or kerosene. These are more efficient than raw biomass fuels, thereby reducing meal preparation times.

However, supplies of liquid petroleum gas and electricity in sub-Saharan Africa are often vulnerable to commodity shocks caused by economic, social, or political instability.

For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global energy markets and supply chains due to early collapse in global oil demand. This resulted in volatile petroleum prices and the price fluctuation presents major challenges to those in resource poor settings.

We have studied how these changes affect low-income households in Kenya. We are part of a joint collaborative effort – by the University of Birmingham and the Population Council, a research organisation dedicated to critical health and development issues – exploring how social, behavioural, economic and environmental factors affect household air pollution exposure. Read more…

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