Johannesburg, South Africa - A University of California, Berkeley professor joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today (Tuesday, Sept. 3) in announcing a major international effort to help reduce indoor pollution from cooking fires, a major cause of respiratory illness in the developing world.
The goal is to provide simple, cheap stoves that burn more efficiently, with less smoke and fumes, and thus reduce the incidence of acute and chronic respiratory infections, said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group and in the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, and director of the campus's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. He accompanied EPA administrator Christine Whitman at the initiative's official unveiling ceremony during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa..
Acute lower respiratory infections, which commonly lead to pneumonia, are the leading cause of mortality from infectious diseases, with an estimated 3.5-4 million deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization data from 2000.
The program also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ease the burden and cost of obtaining fuel, a major expense in much of the developing world.
The partnership, supported not only by the United States and numerous developing countries, but also by Canada, Mexico and Italy, is one of the major initiatives launched by the United States at the 10-day summit. Kammen, whose work partly focuses on energy and development, endorsed the initiative along with representatives of various supporters, including the Shell Foundation.
"This initiative is dirt cheap," Kammen said. "We are talking about stoves that in the field cost a buck apiece. If you start getting 10, 20, 30 million dollars from developed countries, plus whatever AID missions and local governments do, that can be a large amount."
The consortium budget now amounts to over $10 million, with other countries expected to sign on after the summit, Kammen said. The EPA itself will provide several million dollars, with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) slated to contribute funds and field expertise.
"You have to look at this in terms of public health budgets in developing countries," he said. "In Kenya, the public health budget for respiratory health last year was perhaps $40,000, and even that was almost entirely of aid money from Europe, and they are doing a reasonable job of promoting these stoves already. Kenya is considered a success case. So several tens of millions of dollars can have a huge impact."
Kammen began this work with the EPA recently, proposing the simple initiative as a first step toward larger U.S. efforts at the summit. He sent letters in mid-August urging National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Whitman to "harness the expertise of relevant federal agencies to develop a global initiative to support local stove programs."
"I argued that our published results, the culmination of five years of field work in Africa, tell an unmistakable story - that we can get a factor of two reduction in the world's number-one cause of illness, with stoves that cost a dollar each," he said. "Why aren't we at least doing that?"
Whitman eventually got promise of financial support from the Bush administration, and the EPA already is establishing contacts with countries including Senegal, Kenya, India and Mexico, where it hopes to begin efforts or bolster ongoing efforts, said Kammen, who will continue his scientific and policy advising roles as the initiative develops. Most of the effort will be at the local level by USAID and other international aid offices in developing countries, in conjunction with local energy and health ministries and programs.
For the past 10 years, Kammen has worked in Kenya, Uganda and Central America to develop, test and distribute stoves to poor families who otherwise could not afford them, even at $1 each. With the advice of Kammen and others, over 1 million improved stoves have been built and sold locally in Kenya by a network of entrepreneurs in the informal sector.
In order to document the effectiveness of these stoves, he embarked five years ago with colleague Majid Ezzati, now a fellow at Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C., on a before-and-after study of nearly 80 households encompassing 400-500 people in central Kenya. After measuring pollution levels in each, they offered the households a free manufactured stove - a simple, ventilated clay bowl about 18 inches in diameter, sufficient to support a pot and burning either wood or charcoal. Most households had only the simplest stove - a triangle of three rocks.
After the households started using the more efficient wood-burning stoves, exposure levels dropped 40 percent. When using charcoal, exposure dropped 90 percent compared to traditional wood burning stoves. The results indicate that, if maintained, this would result in a 20-45 percent reduction in lower respiratory infections in children alone. Study results were published in The Lancet, Environmental Health Perspectives and Energy Policy.
Countries including China and India have done a great deal on their own to distribute cleaner burning stoves, but much remains to be done when more than half of all households worldwide cook or heat their homes with wood, agricultural waste or dung.
"African nations have no money for this," Kammen said.
In practice, the initiative will try to stimulate the production of cheap, efficient, vented stoves locally, and attempt to replace low quality fuels with more efficient burning fuels, such as sustainably harvested wood, and in some cases, charcoal.
"What is different today from the Rio summit 10 years ago, is that over the last 10 years our knowledge of the public health and energy issues involved in using clean burning stoves has changed dramatically," Kammen said. "Ten years ago we probably would not have known precisely how to focus the efforts of such a program, or how to utilize local markets to do this cost-effectively. Today we can do that."