Making the Clean Available - New Framing of the Cooking Energy Access Problem

Prayas organized a lecture by Prof. Kirk R. Smith (University of California, Berkeley) on the issue of cooking energy access and related health impacts at Pune, India.

Prof. Smith reviewed the latest evidence on the health effects of cooking with solid fuels and discuss ideas for a new framing of this energy access problem to supplement past approaches to clean cooking by not only trying to make the "available (biomass) clean", but also doing much better to make the "clean (gas/electricity) available".  Both approaches can benefit greatly from the actions of community groups and NGOs, although in somewhat different roles. Advances in clean cooking fuels and an understanding of their full benefits make them more attractive than in the past.  There are some difficulties, such as cost, and policy options can be explored to overcome these.

Access to modern cooking fuels remains a significant issue in India. 87% of rural and 26% of urban households in India depend on biomass for cooking. Procuring biomass involves significant time and effort and its use poses severe ill effects on health. 400 million Indians (of which 90% are women) are exposed to indoor air pollution from use of biomass for cooking, resulting in respiratory, pulmonary and vision problems.

Adverse health effects of traditional, open-stove cooking with biomass, especially on women and young children are well documented. Today, one million premature deaths are caused annually from the smoke from open chulhas in India. There have been hundreds of innovative and sincere efforts to bring better biomass stoves through programs, big and small. Although many such efforts have saved fuel and brought other benefits, the scale of the health problem remains daunting. There has been little progress in 50 years in reducing the absolute number of people affected. There were 700 million people exposed in the 1980s and there are still 700 million exposed today, even though there have been substantial gains in other development arenas. It is also now realized that simple chulhas are a significant contributor to outdoor air pollution in the country such that introduction of clean cooking technologies will have nationwide benefits.

About the speaker: Prof. Smith is Professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley and holds visiting professorships in India and China. He is widely recognized for his environmental health work and serves on a number of international scientific advisory committees including the Global Energy Assessment, the Executive Committee for WHO Air Quality Guidelines, and the International Comparative Risk Assessment. Professor Smith's research addresses the relationships among environmental quality, health, resource use, climate, development, and policy in developing countries. These include health effects from indoor air pollution due to household fuels, measurement of health-damaging and climate-related pollution from household fuels in developing countries, policy implications of the potential to achieve co-benefits (health and climate) from pollution control and development and application of conceptual frameworks to improve policy for and regulation of pollution, including Environmental Risk Transition and Exposure Effectiveness (now called Intake Fraction).

For more information on his research, please visit