There is something called “furudut” where I come from. It is a pipe, about 90cm long, used to blow air from a safe distance to restart fire when using wood fuel.
Woe unto you if you inhale smoke from the fireplace through the pipe, and it gets to your lungs and somewhere in the head! It takes a split second, but the cough and tears that follow is unbearable, not forgetting that if the fire does not start, more smoke will affect your eyes and nose. It is one of those unforgettable experiences I have had in the village.
Now, families and individuals are trooping to holiday destinations and villages for celebrations and rest. A lot of cooking will be taking place using wood. Here lies one source of in-house pollution that also creates innocent agents of deforestation, a serious contributor to climate change.
They are innocent because they have limited sources of income, and the most available source of energy to cook is wood fuel. Targeted for wood fuels are sometimes indigenous trees, which may soon be wiped out.
Back to the village, soot hangs from kitchen roofs and walls in almost every home you visit. You can imagine the picture of people’s lungs. Many are constantly coughing. The Ministry of Health statistics show that at least 23,000 Kenyans died in 2020 from in-house pollution; from using wood fuel, kerosene lamps and stoves, charcoal, cow dung and even crop waste.
The World Health Organisation names some of the noncommunicable diseases likely to result from in-house pollution as stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. In Africa, women and girls cook, hence are most exposed to preventable premature death. Inside the forests and bushes where they go to look for the wood fuel, they are also exposed to attacks by animals and and insects. They are also guilty of reducing the tree cover at a time when the country is struggling to reforest.
But what else can they use to cook? Solar, electricity and biogas are some of the options available, but poverty and perceptions deny many access. Kenya has adequate sunshine throughout the year. Besides, the Last Mile Electricity Connectivity project that targeted at least 70 per cent of Kenyans can save a lot of lives if successful, albeit late.
Some of the areas government can target to achieve change is schools, industries, hospitals and hotels, where mass cooking is done using firewood. Imagine how many trees would be saved if just these few institutions, spread countrywide, used electricity to cook in one year alone. How many more people would be saved from respiratory diseases!
This, of course, requires reliable flow of power, as frequent blackouts will make firewood an option. Kenya has adequate renewable energy sources, like wind, solar and others, and electricity supply should not be a problem.
Partnerships with other nations where this has worked, and more between government and private companies that supply solar power, as well as reduced taxation on clean cooking equipment will work to everyone’s advantage. This should go hand in hand with income generating projects in rural areas to make cleaner cooking energy more affordable.
There is opportunity for humans and trees to live longer. There is opportunity to save lives, save forests. And no one should be left behind.
The writer is communications manager at GreenFaith