[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
High death toll from indoor smoke
Indian woman cooking with basic stove. Pic by Marc Lopatin
Many women in India are at risk
Thick acrid smoke rising from stoves and fires inside homes causes around 1.6m deaths a year in developing countries, say experts.

The World Health Organization is calling for greater efforts to combat indoor air pollution.

The agency says it is one of the major causes of death and disease in the world's poorest countries.

According to the WHO, women and children in rural areas are at greatest risk.

However, it says that while the millions of deaths from well-known communicable diseases often make headlines, indoor air pollution remains a silent and unreported killer.

Nearly half of the world continues to cook with solid fuels such as dung, wood, agricultural residues and coal.

Smoke from burning these fuels gives off a poisonous cocktail of particles and chemicals that bypass the body's defences and more than doubles the risk of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

High concentrations

According to the WHO, a typical wood-fired cooking stove creates carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes at concentrations up to 500 times the allowable limit.

As a result, day in day out, and for hours at a time, rural women and their children in particular are subjected to levels of smoke in their homes that far exceed international safety standards.

The World Energy Assessment estimates that the amount of smoke from these fires is the equivalent of consuming two packs of cigarettes a day.

However, these families are faced with what amounts to a non-choice - not cooking using these fuels, or not eating.

Mother and child with basic cooking conditions. Pic by Marc Lopatin.
Many children are among the victims
The WHO says cleaner stoves, fuels and smoke hoods are desperately needed. It is also calling on governments and aid organisations to do more to highlight the dangers.

It made a start at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg two years ago when it was instrumental in setting up the Global Partnership for Clean Indoor Air.

"But this is just the beginning," the WHO said in a joint statement with the UN Development Programme.

"We need the same attention paid to this killer in the kitchen as is paid to other major killers."

The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced $1.3m funding for 11 pilot projects to seek ways to reduce people's exposure to indoor air pollution.

The Shell Foundation, set up by the oil company to promote environmental issues, is also running clean stove pilots in six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya and Mexico.

Director Kurt Hoffman said: "We welcome the news that the WHO and the UNDP are taking a global stand on indoor air pollution.

"Given the rich world's sensitivity to smoke and pollution, it's appalling that we have ignored its deadly impact on the poor for so long.

"There are solutions being developed which could dramatically reduce the death toll but people first need to be aware that indoor smoke is a major health and environmental hazard."

Indoor smoke 'kills millions'
28 Nov 03  |  Science/Nature
Top health risks identified
30 Oct 02  |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific