At the time of my last post (Wildfire Season), smoke from fires in the region seeped into my open office window. Now it’s been replaced by morning fog that gives this month the nickname “Foggust.” I’m grateful for the return of nearly-pristine air quality. I end the month, though, with a deepened awareness of the billions of people who never find relief from smoke’s harm.
I recently met a man who works for Oxfam, specifically with its efforts to develop and implement clean cooking solutions. Globally, three billion people cook over open fires that burn heavily-polluting fuels like charcoal, kerosene, wood, and animal dung. Not only does cooking this way have serious health and environmental impacts, but it disproportionally affects women and children who are most exposed to cooking smoke’s harmful effects.
I saw (and felt) these effects during a visit to Nicaragua, standing at the side of a woman in her family’s smoky kitchen as she made tortillas over an open fire. Two NGOs I’ve worked with there, Center for Development in Central America and Bainbridge-Ometepe Sister Island Association, support health clinics that treat hundreds of people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses related to this pollution.
Fortunately, clean cooking solutions exist that can reduce exposure to harmful cookstove smoke and decrease climate damage. Putting these alternatives in place is complex, but groups like Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves are working to eliminate barriers to production and use of efficient stoves and fuels.
Stories from the Oxfam worker don’t negate the reality of the discomfort and harm caused by wildfires and their smoke this summer. But they do remind me of what a privilege it is to turn the nobs on my electric stove each day.