In the United States and other industrialized nations, cook stoves and cooking over an open flame are pieces of the past. We often catch a glimpse of an earlier life in historical fiction or TV shows depicting the harsh reality of cooking in a time before electric and gas stoves, a time when just gathering the means to start a fire was necessary before a meal could even be cooked. This life is as foreign to us as living in the Middle Ages or ancient Greece. However, for some regions of the world, cooking over an open flame is common, everyday life; as a matter of fact, this is very common in developing countries. Not only do these people cook over an open flame, but they even do so inside their homes, much similar to the practice of early American settlers, but cooking indoors has drastic health consequences.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.6 million deaths are attributed to the effects of indoor smoke inhalation, a large portion of which is due to cook stoves. In countries like India, China, parts of Africa, and other developing countries, people (particularly women) use indoor cook stoves for mealtimes.
WHO states that half the world’s population still uses cook stoves and suffers from extreme indoor air pollution. Using solid fuels such as wood, coal, and dung not only gives off large amounts of smoke, but they also release toxic gases like carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and other harmful gases. Just breathing these gases can be harmful, but they are even more dangerous in the poorly ventilated homes in developing countries. With poor ventilation, these gases and smoke hover indoors, where they are breathed day after day. Women and children, who spend the most time indoors, are more subject to these harms, often resulting in early deaths.
This problem may seem far from being solved, but there are efforts being made to help increase fuel efficiency and to improve air quality. Different cook stove projects are being instituted around the world, helping developing countries to overcome this problem with more efficient cook stoves. These projects provide clean cook stoves that use less fuel products, which helps sustain the environment and decreases fuel costs, and they also drastically reduce the amount of indoor air pollution. The new clean cook stoves are nowhere near the electric and gas stoves to which we are accustomed, but they are the first step in the right direction.