Dirty cooking 'kills at least 33,000 yearly'

Woman cooking with firewood. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Energy Minister January Makamba Said yesterday that the devastating affect of firewood on the health of users is the main reason the government is advocating a switch to clean cooking energy.

Dar es Salaam. Charcoal, firewood and crop residues may be cheaper cooking energy options, but they are directly responsible for at least 33,000 deaths in Tanzania annually, a Cabinet minister said yesterday.

Energy minister January Makamba said during a visit to Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) head office in Dar es Salaam that this is the main reason the government is advocating the use of clean cooking energy.

“We have decided to take the issue of cooking energy seriously to liberate women. The number of people dying from this problem is far greater than those dying of HIV/Aids and in road accidents,” he said.

“Currently, between 4.5 percent and eight percent of Tanzania’s population uses clean cooking energy. In Kenya, it is 17 percent, while the global average is 70 percent.”

Mr Makamba added that about 80 percent of Tanzania’s households depend on firewood, charcoal and crop residues as sources of cooking energy.

He said a person who is exposed to firewood smoke for an hour faces similar health risks as a person who smokes between 200 and 300 cigarettes daily.

The campaign for the adoption of clean cooking energy is meant to provide equal access to safe, affordable and modern energy for cooking, and is also a response to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7.

SDG 7 also calls for affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.

Mr Makamba said President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s vision for the future is to create an enabling environment that will promote the switch from firewood to clean energy, and make it possible for Tanzania to reach the global average of 70 percent of families using clean cooking energy by 2032.

“Dirty energy not only affects the health of our people, but the government also incurs huge costs in treating respiratory diseases. Seventy percent of health costs in Tanzania stem from non-communicable diseases, including respiratory illnesses,” he observed.

“The country also suffers from deforestation, which fuels climate change and its impact. Women and girls are most at risk. Our research has established that women and girls spend an average of five to six hours daily looking for firewood, thus exposing themselves to risks such as venomous snakes and rape.”

The two-day Clean Cooking Conference scheduled for next month will not only address key issues, including barriers related to the use of clean energy for cooking in the country, but also discuss modalities through which modern cooking solutions can be promoted, Mr Makamba said.

“Her Excellency President Samia Suluhu Hassan will be part of the event, and she will declare the country’s road map towards clean cooking energy. Although the event will be held in Dar es Salaam, ten other regions led by their respective regional commissioners will participate virtually.”

Mr Makamba said other participants would be policymakers, development partners, entrepreneurs, investors, donors, experts and the general public.

The event will feature discussions on monetary, legal and policy interventions that could promote clean cooking energy, as well as an exhibition whereby negative and positive ways of cooking will be displayed.

“I foresee tangible transformation of the lives of Tanzanians in the next ten years through the use of clean energy in cooking. Getting women to stop using firewood will be one of the country’s greatest achievements,” Mr Makamba said.

“India’s environment is almost similar to Tanzania’s, but that country has managed to make clean cooking energy accessible to its people. We must come up with a plan that will take into consideration the ability of Tanzanians to use clean energy.”

An expert in respiratory diseases at Muhimbili National Hospital, Dr Pauline Chale, has been quoted saying between 30,000 and 45,000 people die prematurely every year in Tanzania from illnesses linked to household air pollution, with women and children being especially vulnerable.

“We treat patients affected by the use of firewood and charcoal in what we call the biomass fuel effect,” she said, noting that since treatment takes a long time, it consumes resources that would otherwise have been used to treat other patients.

The government plans to spend Sh500 million this financial year to facilitate the adoption of clean and reliable energy.

Although there are several reasons which explain the behaviour of household members in choosing energy sources for cooking, the energy ladder theory points out that income is a major determinant.

Moreover, despite the improvement in income levels, the majority of Tanzanians still rely on dirty energy sources for cooking despite being harmful to health, the environment and the economy at large.