A section of lobby groups has urged Kenya to address its cooking fuels crisis, a socio-economic issue affecting hundreds of thousands of the country’s consumers.
This comes as more than 20,000 Kenyans are dying every year due to the effects of inefficient and polluting cooking fuels used by families across the country, several reports have revealed, with millions more at risk of dying early.
Globally, the World Health Organization says that nine out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. The use of inefficient and polluting cooking fuel, such as charcoal and kerosene, is a primary driver of this alarming situation.
“Inefficient and polluting cooking fuels are a silent killer in Kenya. An average of 400 Kenyans, the majority of whom are women and children, will die this week as a result of diseases attributed to household air pollution, according to WHO statistics,” commented Ms. Anne Songole, CEO of the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK).”
“These diseases are avoidable. It’s time for us to wake up the scourge of inefficient and polluting fuels,” she said.
A recent in-depth study from Dalberg Global Development Advisors notes that 70% of Kenyan households in urban areas use firewood, charcoal, or kerosene as their primary cooking fuel.
“Indoor air pollution from these inefficient and polluting cooking fuels is causing early deaths among affected populations. The most affected are women and children under five years who spend more time in the kitchen. They are affected by respiratory health complications such as pulmonary diseases, asthma, lung cancer, pneumonia, and respiratory tract infections, eye cataracts,” the report states.
The WHO has reported that in Kenya, as many as 8% to 10% of early deaths are attributable to indoor air pollution from charcoal and wood cooking alone; this excludes the unquantified but likely substantial negative effects of kerosene cooking on lung function, infectious illness and cancer risks, as well as burns and poisonings.
The urban Kenyan cooking fuel market is estimated to be worth between Ksh60 billion and Ksh80 billion annually, but it remains dominated by inefficient and polluting fuels. Charcoal (22%) and kerosene (29%) are prevalent in urban Kenya due to their wide availability and, traditionally, their relative affordability, despite the rise in prices of such fuels.
According to Dalberg, Kenya loses 10.3 million cubic meters of wood from its forests every year from unsustainable charcoal and wood fuel use. At a time when a desperate drought is affecting so many Kenyans, the scale of deforestation in an already dry country is especially concerning, given its negative impact on food security and agricultural yields.
Kenya, for instance, loses Ksh200 billion each year as a result of premature deaths brought about by air pollution, according to a study by Global Policy Forum, which made the first major attempt to calculate both the human and financial cost of Africa’s pollution.
A different study by the University of Nairobi and Sweden’s University of Gotenburg suggested that the air in Nairobi is so polluted that it may be causing serious ailments, including heart and lung diseases as well as cancer. In Africa, air pollution kills 712,000 people every year compared with about 542,000 due to unsafe water, 275,000 due to malnutrition, and 391,000 due to unsafe sanitation, says the report.
As such, the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya (CCAK) aims to bring together all stakeholders promoting efficient and cleaner cooking fuels by advocating for an enabling environment for increased awareness and adoption. The organisation believes that when affected communities adopt cleaner cooking fuels for their primary use, the number of respiratory health complications and risks to environmental pollution will be reduced.