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Indoor Air Pollution in Rural CambodiaCambodia has seen a rapid decrease in poverty within the last decade. More than 45 percent of the population was impoverished in 2007 when compared to 13.5 percent in 2014. It has also sustained one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world at an average of 8 percent between 1998 and 2018. However, just because the majority of the country has achieved middle-income status does not mean that the country is without its issues. Indoor air pollution in Cambodia is a growing problem.

Rural vs. Urban Areas

Many of those who have only recently overcome poverty have just barely done so. A large part of Cambodia’s population still lives on a very small amount of money per day and is at risk of slipping back into poverty. This risk is much higher in rural provinces. Eighty percent of Cambodia’s population lives in rural areas that had a poverty level of 20.8 percent in 2012. That is three times higher than the poverty rate in urban areas.

Rural Cambodians are subject as such to the hardships that many of the world’s rural poor must face. These include dilapidated electrical and internet infrastructure as well as limited access to healthcare and sanitation resources. Indoor air pollution in Cambodia is one such aspect of health that affects the rural poor disproportionately.

Indoor Air Pollution

The typical symptoms of being regularly exposed to indoor air pollution include nasal congestion, nose bleeds, difficulty breathing, a sore throat and asthma. These symptoms seem similar to a common cold, but long-term effects can include more serious respiratory diseases like respiratory disease and cancer.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the greatest environmental health risk in the Western Pacific Region. In 2012, air pollution caused at least 3.2 million deaths. Indoor air pollution accounted for about 1.62 million of these deaths. Indoor air pollution is usually caused by smoking tobacco inside and by cooking with wood, coal or dung without proper indoor ventilation. Many people who are poor in rural areas with limited access to gas or electricity use these methods to cook. In rural Cambodia, the prevalence of these cooking methods reached 95 percent of households by 2013.

Biogas Stoves

The main solution to reducing indoor air pollution is to introduce efficient stoves that use clean fuel. One source of clean stove fuel would simply be electricity. However, that is an issue for rural Cambodians since the electrical infrastructure is sparse in rural areas. A better, more applicable solution would be to introduce biogas stoves with proper ventilation.

One million Cambodian households have the proper livestock to supply themselves with biogas fuel. The fuel would need to be extracted by using a biodigester that anaerobically takes methane from natural resources such as dung stored underground and siphons it to the stove. The methane would, of course, need proper ventilation to ensure the air in the household did not become poisonous just like a natural gas stove. Cambodia’s Natural Biodigester Programme (NBP) is working to distribute biodigesters to its rural population in hopes of combatting indoor air pollution. As of 2016, the state-led program has installed about 23,000 biodigesters.

The ACE 1 Stove

Using solid biomass for cooking causes much of indoor air pollution. Another alternative to solid biomass would be to use cleaner biomass stovetops that produce negligible emissions indoors. African Clean Energy (ACE) has launched the ACE 1 stove. This stove uses biomass as fuel but burns nearly all particles inside the chamber to leave barely any emissions. In addition, the stove comes with solar panels that provide LED lighting and outlet ports for mobile phones.

ACE has launched a program in northern Cambodia, the poorest Cambodian region, to try and implement the product. The ACE 1 is auctioned from a local vendor where the buyer pays a $25 downpayment. Afterward, the buyer continues to pay off the stove in small monthly increments of about $7.

Indoor air pollution in Cambodia is still rampant in rural parts despite the overall increase in income. The solutions are there, but in order to ensure economic growth that benefits everybody, Cambodia needs to focus on the implementation of these solutions in an ethical and sustainable way. This would lessen the health risks that the Cambodian poor face from simply living in their houses. It will also help facilitate more stable, lasting economic growth and development for the poor of the countryside.

Graham Gordon
Photo: Flickr

the_wonderbagThe Wonderbag is a revolutionary non-electric cooker with the capacity to change the way people cook around the world. The Wonderbag website describes the product as “a simple but revolutionary non-electric heat-retention cooker. It continues to cook food that has been brought to the boil by conventional methods for up to 12 hours without the use of additional fuel.”

The Wonderbag works by allowing the person cooking to heat any pot of food and then place the boiling pot into the bag and seal it. The initial heating can be done in any way whatsoever: on a stove in a modern kitchen, over a campfire or on a charcoal fire in a developing country’s village. The heat from the initial boiling keeps the food cooking inside the Wonderbag for eight to 12 hours.

The Wonderbag is portable and can be used anywhere. In addition to heating food, it can also be used as a cooler. All you have to do is freeze it and it will keep food cold for hours.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, inventor Sarah Collins said “The biggest killer in the world is indoor air pollution related diseases; over 4 million people die annually from cooking related fire diseases,” half of whom are under five years of age. Also, the burning of fuels causes hundreds of thousands of burns every year, according to the Wonderbag website.

Deforestation is a major problem around the world and is happening especially quickly in the developing world where they still use wood and charcoal as fuel and for the purposes of cooking. And by 2025, water shortages may affect up to two-thirds of the world’s population. In an interview with Climate Action, inventor Sarah Collins stated that: “The bag can reduce the amount of fossil fuels that people use for cooking by 90 percent.”

According to the Wonderbag website, the preparation of food can have a particularly damaging effect on the progress of women in developing countries. Preparing food can take hours, including the time spent gathering fuel. The use of the Wonderbag can free up several hours a day, allowing girls time to go to school and women time to do other work.

According to Climate Action, Collins says that through humanitarian work, she aims to get her product to “the people who live on a dollar a day in the developing world.” In the developing world, the bag can be used similarly to a slow cooker in a modern kitchen.

Finally, for each Wonderbag purchased by someone in the developed world, one will be donated to a family in the developing world, linking people all around the world to each other.

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: Wonderbag, Facebook, Huffington Post, Climat Action Programme
Photo: Flickr

indoor air pollution
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.3 million people lose their lives every year due to indoor air pollution. A report from the U.N. Climate Panel has further stated that the “worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors” – between 30 and 150 times more people die from indoor air pollution than from global warming.

Around the world, 3 billion people still cook food and heat their homes using solid fuels – such as wood, charcoal, coal, dung and crop wastes – on open fires or traditional stoves. These inefficient cooking and heating practices contribute to a dangerously high level of indoor air pollution, including fine particles and carbon monoxide. In poorly ventilated homes, the amount of smoke produced can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles by 100-fold.

Since indoor air pollution is mostly attributed to activities in the kitchen, women and young children who “spend the most time near the domestic hearth” are especially exposed to the health dangers – acute and chronic respiratory conditions (like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,) lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Other risks include adverse pregnancy complications, tuberculosis, low birthweight, perinatal mortality, asthma, middle ear infections and cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract and cervix. These negative health effects are only exacerbated in developing countries.

The cooking and heating practices that are responsible for indoor air pollution are indirectly linked to other health hazards as well. Poorly lit homes and kitchens may contribute to deaths, lifelong disabilities and disfigurement from fire-related burns (which are common when using solid fuel and kerosene stoves.) In low and middle-income countries, kerosene is widely used and stored in soft drink or milk bottles, causing many young children to be poisoned from unintentional ingestion.

Indoor air pollution has adverse environmental effects as well. The reliance on wood fuel can heighten deforestation and put “considerable pressure on forests,” leading to forest degradation and a loss of habitat and biodiversity. Additionally, using biomass and coal stoves is inefficient, and a large percentage of energy is lost as products of incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion produces pollutants like black carbon and methane, both of which have a significant impact on climate change.

In addition to creating indoor air pollution, traditional biomass fuels and appliances limit the time available for families to concentrate on generating income and educating their children, contributing to a “vicious cycle of poverty and reliance on polluting.” For instance, those who rely on inefficient fuels may spend a large portion of the day on fuel collection, and homes with limited access to a clean and reliable source of lighting would not be able to pursue economic and educational opportunities outside of daylight hours.

To reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, solid fuels should be replaced by cleaner and more efficient fuels: liquid petroleum gas, biogas, producer gas, electricity and solar power. However, biomass is still the most realistic fuel source for poor communities due to the scarcity of alternative fuels. In those areas, indoor air pollution could be downsized through improved stoves and ventilation.

— Kristy Liao

Sources: Eco-Business, Forbes, WHO
Photo: WordPress


4 million lives are lost each year to household air pollution. This means that annually, a population roughly the size of Los Angeles dies as a consequence of traditional cooking methods still practiced by poverty stricken families of the global south. In an attempt to raise awareness of the need for the adequate power grids necessary to ameliorate the toxic effects of indoor air pollution, policymakers are calling for increased funding towards universal energy access.

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria recently published a study showing that an annual investment of between 65 to 86 billion dollars a year for the next 17 years would allow for universal energy access. Why is universal energy access the solution to indoor air pollution? In order to reduce fatalities by up to 1.8 million by 2030, clean combusting cooking fuels and electric ovens must be made available –via greater energy investment – to poverty stricken areas.

Regarding universal energy access, IIASA researcher Dr. Shonali Pachauri remarked that, “The scale of investment required is small from a global perspective, though it will require additional financing for nations that are least likely to have access to sources of finances.”

Ingenious forecasting models generated from the study show that an investment of 750 to 1000 billion dollars over the next 20 years – or 3 to 4% of current energy investments – would facilitate universal energy access. Furthermore, through these investments, a policy of fuel subsidies, new stoves, and improved access to electricity would all serve to dramatically reduce the casualties of indoor air pollution.

By enacting a policy of universal energy access now, future generations of poverty stricken families can enjoy the safety of cooking without the carcinogenic side effects of indoor air pollution. Dr. Pachauri optimistically notes that achieving this goal will result in signicant health benefits.

Brian Turner
Source: Science Daily
Photo: Building A Smarter Planet

WHO Raises Awareness on Indoor Air PollutionFor many families, the simple act of heating their apartment or preparing a cooked meal can result in long-term health consequences ranging from respiratory infections to lung cancer. In an effort to combat the effects of indoor air pollution, the World Health Organization (WHO) is promoting a policy of greater awareness and education on the dangers of certain biomass fuels.

The luxury of an oven fan or electric stove is out of reach for many poverty-stricken countries in the Global South, necessitating the use of charcoal as a primary source of fuel for cooking. Unfortunately, charcoal-fueled cooking releases pollutant-laden smoke that, without proper ventilation, can lead to chronic air pollution-related health problems later in life.

The number of hazardous pollutants released in the smoke in staggering; containing carcinogens such as benzene, pyrene, and toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and nitrous oxides. Sadly, the diseases that result from frequent exposure to indoor air pollution are just as severe, ranging from acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and asthma. Additionally, because the societies that use such materials for fuel have most of their meals prepared by females, air pollution disproportionately affects the women and children of the household.

The WHO, in cooperation with UNICEF and USAID, is actively working to educate target publics about the dangers of indoor air pollution. Additionally, by raising awareness of the health problems caused by indoor air pollution with various NGOs and development agencies, a realistic policy in finding practical fuel alternatives to charcoal and other hazardous materials can be identified and implemented.

– Brian Turner

Source: WHO
Photo: Howstuffworks