Why wood smoke is dangerous to health


Health experts have repeatedly warned people about dangers of smoking and being close to smoke. However many individuals remain ensnared in smoke either by smoking cigarettes or burning kerosene and wood.

The biggest campaign in the world is against smoking cigarettes because it contributes to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) like cancer, heart complications.

A study conducted in 2013/2014 by a young researcher Ms Aziza Abdulkadir from the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) confirms similar dangers from the traditional kitchens, where majority of mothers still burn firewood to cook food.

Despite extensive research on the effects of biomass fuels on human health, it is estimated that more than three billion people (almost half of the world population), still cook in their homes using traditional fire and Stove and burning biomass fuels like wood, dung and crop waste.

Scientists say burning of these fuels has been found to produce lots of noxious pollutants mainly particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, formaldehydes and carcinogens such as benzo (a) pyrene.

These pollutants have been linked with the increased prevalence/occurrence of lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), upper respiratory health infections such as runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat etc and lung cancer when continuously used and for long duration. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that continuous use of biomass for cooking expose women and children to high level of pollution more than 100 times than the level set by WHO, claiming the lives of 1.5 million people a year or 1 person in every second.

A study on indoor air pollution from biomass cooking fuels conducted at Chukwani Zanzibar by Aziza S Abdulkadir in, 2013-2014 has revealed a similar situation in homes. According to the findings from this study, women and children are exposed to high 24–hour levels of Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide, 24-fold and 9-fold respectively, and 2-times the measured level during cooking times compared to the safe level set by WHO.

This is undeniable very high and unhealthy, thus appropriate measures need to be taken to improve Public Health. Since firewood and charcoals has remained a practical fire, it is beyond doubt that day in and day out families breathe in lethal fumes from those cooking fuels and are therefore exposed to unprecedented levels of Household Air Pollutants (HAP).

Despite breathing in noxious fumes, the study has also revealed that, as the consequence of poverty and lack of awareness towards this issue, many families in Zanzibar homes suffer a lot, and sometimes bear lots of pains and troubles in search for firewood for cooking, which obviously make them pay for the crime that they haven’t committed. There are lots of solutions/initiatives which can help relieve women and children from this burden.

These ranges from short-term to long-term initiatives which everyone can afford and turn the smoky cooking areas into healthier and comfortable kitchens. Such solutions include; Improving the efficiency of biomass use through enhanced ventilation by keeping doors and windows open, leaving open spaces between wall and roofs in the kitchen as well as using smoke extraction hoods to allow smoke to move out of the kitchen and cut back levels of pollution.

Additionally, using the simple, affordable and easily available improved stoves can reduce the level of smoke/ pollutants in kitchens. Moreover, keeping away children from smoky kitchens can also help reduce exposure among children. Last but not least, switching to cleaner fuel is considered the most sustainable cleaner cooking intervention but deems impossible unless cleaner fuels are heavily subsidised but can be taken as a long-term solution.

Awareness of indoor smoke as a problem is lacking among the local community. Thus a need for multiple sectors at all levels to intervene through designing cheap and feasible initiatives is needed to relieve the heavy burden that women and child are carrying heavily due to lack of access to cleaner fuels.

Health professionals on the other hand are needed to play part in enquiring about the causal relationship of biomass pollutants and health and recommend appropriate solution for this problem.

Behavioural change campaigns which include issues such as drying of fuels before cooking, improve combustion efficiency by fuel drying, selecting efficient fuels, and keeping children away from kitchen which to a large extent can help reduce exposure among women and the innocent children are limited hence need to be enhanced and implemented.

While the government promotes use of electricity and gas in home and industries, and to make the sources of energy easily accessible, everyone has a role to strengthen education/awareness about the dangers of smoke to our health.

Written by Issa Yussuf. This story was sourced from the Daily News website.


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