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Clean cooking could save half a million lives each year

Replacing traditional wood and charcoal stoves could save nearly half a million lives each year in Africa alone, according to a new study from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The researchers have published an open-source tool known as OnStove that can be used by local policymakers across the region to address a “severe market failure” in delivering clean cooking methods.

“Clean cooking is commonly defined as cooking with fuels and stove combinations that meet the standards set by the World Health Organization’s Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality,” wrote the study authors.

“As of 2020, roughly 2.4 billion people worldwide lacked access to clean cooking, relying on polluting fuels instead to meet their daily cooking needs. The lack of clean cooking is especially pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where only 17% of the population currently use clean solutions.”

According to the researchers, the OnStove geospatial tool provides a data-based way to calculate the costs and benefits of transitioning to clean cooking alternatives such as gas and electric stoves.

OnStove data shows that as many as 463,000 deaths could be prevented in Africa every year by replacing traditional wood- and charcoal-burning stoves. Professor Francesco Fuso-Nerini noted that clean cooking in sub-Saharan Africa could generate a savings of $66 billion in healthcare costs.

The OnStove tool has already been applied to support the Nepal government’s energy policies. The researchers have also begun working with the Kenyan government to assist in a widespread transition toward clean cooking.

“It was well received where we started to use it. There’s a lot of interest from other organizations and governments,” said Professor Fuso-Nerini. “But it’s a complex issue and this is one of the first tools that gives good information and a good picture of what you would need to transition away from these bad ways of cooking.”

The tool supports policy making by assigning actual value to traditional cooking methods’ negative aspects, such as respiratory disease or lost time due to collecting wood or other burnable biomass, explained Professor Fuso-Nerini.

“These values give a better understanding about costs and benefits of clean cooking. That enables governments to step in and take a broad view that moves people in the right direction.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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