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Solving the Biggest Health Risk You’ve Never Heard Of

2008 August 8

About the author: Jacob Moss joined EPA’s air program in 1999 and has led a variety of air quality, energy, and international efforts since that time.

During my Peace Corps service in Togo, West Africa, in the late 1980s, I would often chat with local women while they cooked in their kitchens. These visits couldn’t last more than a short while simply because the smoke from the stoves was so dense I would start coughing, my eyes would sting, and I would have to go outside to breathe. These women, like nearly half the world’s population, cooked on rudimentary stoves using solid fuels. They typically used wood or charcoal, but in other regions of the world crop residues, coal and dung cakes are also used extensively.

In 2002, the World Health Organization ranked indoor smoke from cooking stoves as the 4th worst health risk factor in poor developing countries – after undernourishment, unsafe sex, and lack of clean water supply and sanitation. Breathing elevated levels of indoor smoke from home cooking and heating practices more than doubles a child’s risk of serious respiratory infection; it may also be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth and low birth weight.

In 2002, I helped EPA start an initiative called the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA), to help galvanize global efforts to address these risks. Since its foundation, we’ve grown from 13 initial partners to more than 190 partners today. In India alone we have over 20 partner organizations from the government, NGO, academic and private sectors. Similarly, in the East African region (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), we work with over a dozen partnering organizations. EPA’s projects will bring cleaner cooking practices to over a million people, while our partners collectively plan on reaching about 30 million people in the next couple of years. We’ve worked with partners to ensure that the clean stoves and fuels being promoted are measurably and significantly reducing people’s exposure to this smoke.

Now I’m leading a process to expand PCIA to make it independent, sustainable, and capable of achieving large-scale results. In the next five years, we’d like to work with partners to demonstrate the ability to reach 50 to 75 million people who are currently exposed to poor indoor air quality. In the longer-term (say, 15 years), we’d like to work with our partners to design and implement a strategy to eliminate these risks for half of the affected global population – about 1.5 billion people.

I am happy to discuss some of our lessons learned from the field in future blogs. In the meantime, let me know what you think. How do you think we can most successfully expand PCIA?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Carolyn Allen permalink
    August 11, 2008

    How to expand the impact? Put the money you receive into the products needed to make the change…and let families pass the instructions and free or cost product along to their aunts and uncles, cousins and children. Humans love to share resources with their families…and they do it all the time. The Nonprofit and government subsidy sectors have tried to supplant that system and its very costly and ineffective compared to these organic networks. Just my observation… :-)

  2. Linda permalink
    August 12, 2008

    Out of curiosity, what clean cooking technologies do you offer? I’ve done some research on the web recently about solar stoves, built from low-cost materials and powered by nothing but sunlight and wonder if that might be one of the options offered? You can’t get more sustainable than sunshine.

  3. Marcus permalink
    August 12, 2008

    Malaria did not get the recent attention and private funding it deserved until there was a sustained campaign of educating people who could have an impact. I think this is similar. The problem, and solutions, are obvious but only to those who know about them.

  4. Juliet permalink
    August 13, 2008

    I agree with Marcus. Education is the key to everything! People will only be interested in solving a problem if they are aware about it. Involving the media and getting the public interested will definitely help this worthy cause.

  5. Michelle permalink
    August 13, 2008

    It is amazing how much good can come from such a simple change, like outdoor cooking or solar stoves.

  6. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    July 20, 2009

    This is a great program you have. It is the first I have heard of it. But you are doing the right thing promoting its importance through local partners. Some large national and multinational corporations may have offices in some of the areas PCIA operates in and your local partners might be able to ask for funding help that would allow the program to expand and maybe provide information on it to the local people in various alternative formats like minority languages and for disabled persons who may need to have it explained in picture language, sign or braile. Again, this is a great program. Best of luck on it and best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  7. Paul Lee permalink
    January 2, 2010

    Hi Jacob

    this is a terrific post … I am collaborating with a group of engineers out here in the San Francisco Bay Area on very small scale solar thermal co-generation and its applications in developing countries which include domestic cooking, water purification, pasteurization, food processing, refrigeration and electricity.

    Now that I am aware of PCIA I will look further into it and contact you, as the goals you state are completely aligned with my own.

    Thank you!

  8. permalink
    November 7, 2012

    It is a great post.
    I have just visited your blog by accident but it comes out that your blog provides much useful information. I will be back again when I have free time.
    Have a nice day!

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