Amrit Banstola: It is surprising to see that after 61 years of initiation of improved cook stove (ICS) by Government of Nepal (such initiative dates as far back as 1950 with the introduction of Indian models of Hyderabad and Magan stoves) traditional and primitive chulas (stoves) are still in extensive use in Chidipani rural community.
Chidipani is a beautiful Magar village, with uneven geography, 17 km east of Palpa, a city famous for Nepali ‘dhaka’ (a typical Nepali cloth). I had been to Chidipani, Palpa, a month ago, for my community health need assessment student field assignment, where I had the opportunity the community use of primitive stoves up close, during my month long stay in this community. I was living with a family that was using it for cooking so it was quite a bit of experience to see the rustic chulas in use and their effects on the health of the family.
Every morning, Didi (the housewife) spent around two hours just on cooking meals. Altogether she used to spend 5 hours a day in the kitchen, which is roughly 20 percent of the day near the cook stove.
Please see the traditional tripod type stove in the picture and you can guess how inefficient the cooking could get in this part of the world. She often had problems lighting the Chula. Due to the poor housing conditions, her chula used to get wet by dew drops falling from the roof of kitchen and it took a lot of time to relight the wet chula. Once she lighted the chula, the smoke soon occupied the whole kitchen leading to excessive levels of indoor air pollution. After burning for some time, the fire needed to be gutted and the burned wood to be replaced with a fresh supply.
There was no ventilation to divert the smoke out of the kitchen. The situation even gets worse when it rains because the firewood gets wet and the wood is then very difficult to burn. The housewife didn’t know that not diverting the smoke out of the kitchen is harmful to the families’ health.
I looked as though the smoke in the house during one day can be compared to smoking two packets of cigarettes. Moreover, there is a fair chance that the release of incompletely combusted carbon gases and other harmful particles into the atmosphere, by village after village, results in the emission of Green House Gas (GHG).
To make the house-lady understand the danger of inhaling the smoke polluted with shoot, I tried to explain that she needed to provide adequate ventilation to allow the smoke to escape from the kitchen. Unfortunately, this is an example of the everyday situation of many housewives in their daily routine in Chidipani.
In this community, types of stoves depend on local availability and on the economic status of the households. In some houses there were “agenu” (open fireplace), simple three-stones or a tripod, or a mud chula while in some houses there were biogas fuel stoves (gover gas or LPG). As Chidipani is a Magar community, agenu (open fireplace) is used to make animal feed and ‘Jaad’ (a local wine made from fermentation).
The type and size of the kitchen, and its position in the house, also influences the ventilation of the chulas. Those with bigger kitchen that are well ventilated use the LPG. However, the usual type of cooking stove was a rustic chula as most of the people here in Chidipani have poor economic status.
In my time in the village, I used to ask the residents about the problems they were facing with the use of primitive cooking stoves. They replied that their chulas are allergic, consume more time, the cooking pots get black, and produce excessive smoke. They have difficulty breathing and lighting the firewood is difficult. Moreover, there is a significant loss of heat from the stove and pots into the environment, with a minimum transfer of heat from the flame to the cooking pots.
When I asked for the reasons for using the traditional chula, Damanti replied, “We do not have enough money to install the improved cooking stoves”. Usha, Damanti’s friend had a different answer. “The improved chulas are not easily available and we do not have ideas to install those”, she said. Himani, another respondent said, “traditional chula are easy to construct and cheap to install. Moreover, we do have enough firewood available in the village without having to pay for it”.
These people are eager to install the smokeless chula only when the government and the related partner organization provides incentives (financial or logistics). Thus, there is urgent need for government to focus its improved cook stove development and dissemination activities in this community. It would be good if government prioritize this kind of places to carry out its smokeless stoves campaign.
There is limited awareness among the people about the use of smokeless chula and the health issues associated with it as well as environmental effects traditional chulas create on long run. Awareness through the use of mass media, focus group discussion with mother groups should be promoted. In addition, operation research should be conducted to observe more reliable findings on problems of traditional chula.
References: Center for Rural Technology, Nepal (CRT/N). Improved Cook Stove (ICS) Development: A Case from Nepal.
Featured Photo Credit: Michael Yon 2009
About Author: Amrit Banstola wrote this article for Climate Himalaya ‘s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Amrit is founder cum editor-in-chief of Public Health Perspective (PHP) Online Newsletter–the first online public health newsletter of Nepal
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.
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