It had rained all through the night. The ground was still eroded, and water surrounded the kitchen, built with mud and grass.
With her teary eyes looking red and almost unable to see clearly due to smoke, Wassa Joseph keeps blowing air to intensify the flame under her pot while on her knees.
Despite the firewoods’ wetness, she kept blowing air and melting used plastic containers she gathered up beside the kitchen.
With 99% of the world’s population living in places where air pollution levels exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline limits, around 2.4 billion people (around a third of the global population) still cook using solid fuels (such as wood, crop waste, charcoal, coal and dung) and kerosene in open fires and inefficient stoves. Most of these people are poor and live in low and middle-income countries. At the same time, about 52% of the global rural population relied on polluting fuels, only about 14% of people in urban areas relied on polluting fuels and technologies in 2020.
Wassa Joseph, a mother of two, who resides in Pantinako, Yorro Local Government Area (LGA) of Taraba State, battling a severe cough, cannot stop using firewood to cook despite looking stressed and sick.
“I have been using firewood for years, and I have no experience of using cooking gas because this is what I grew up to meet. I was not exposed to using cooking gas or any other means of cooking, and even when my husband wanted to purchase a cylinder, I refused because it’s too expensive.”
“Even if I say I should reconsider the option, the high price won’t allow me because I heard 1kg is sold for N1,200 at Mile Six, whereas I can conveniently cook with N100 firewood for two days and more,” she said.
Like Wassa Joseph, there are several women in the rural areas of Taraba state whose lives are threatened by the harmful effect of inhaling smoke from cooking with solid fuels. Many households rely on solid fuel for cooking. Along with their children, many women climb to the top of the hills and mountains to cut trees and fetch wood for cooking.
Access To Clean Cooking Energy
Nigeria is one of the most populated West African nations, with an estimated population of 200 million people. An average home survives on a minimum wage of ₦30,000 monthly, spending more than half on food with an increase in the unemployment rate from 27.1% in the 2nd quarter of 2020 to 33.3% in the 4th quarter of 2020.
The use of clean cooking technologies and cooking gas in local communities in Nigeria is becoming unaffordable as over 69.9 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty or below one dollar per day, amidst the current inflation rate, Naira to dollar exchange rate and impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
According to BRIM Energy, a Commercial & Industrial gas plant in Jalingo, the average wholesale price for refilling per kg of LPG (Cooking Gas) stood at N780. Findings from other local retailers showed that the average price for refilling per kg of LPG (Cooking Gas) stood between N850 to N950.
Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Statistics, in its latest report on Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas), the average retail price for refilling a 5kg cylinder of LPG (Cooking Gas) stood at N4,456.56 in August 2022 from N4,397.68 recorded in July 2022, showing a 1.34% on a month-on-month basis. However, on a year-on-year basis, this rose by 101.17% from N2,215.33 in August 2021.
According to analysis, the highest average price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas) was recorded in Taraba state with N4,925.44, followed by Adamawa with N4,920.00, a neighbouring state with Taraba.
In addition, prices analyzed by zones show that the North-Central recorded the highest average retail price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas) with N4,615.95, followed by the North-East with N4,548.03, while the North-West recorded the lowest with N4,285.51.
Aishatu Musa understands the adverse effects of cooking with solid fuels. However, she cannot stop using these fuels as cleaner methods are not as affordable as solid fuels.
“Although cooking with all these fire woods and charcoal [is] dangerous to the health, I cannot stop cooking with charcoal or fire foods because of the affordability of other cooking means. Considering the size of my family, my husband, the children and my other co-wives, using gas or electric cooker is not an option at all because you cannot even afford to fill the gas or pay the electricity bill.”
“I don’t think I know of any other means of cooking, either with modern technology or other sources asides from electric cookers and gas,” she added.
On a visit to the famous Mile Six market in Jalingo, Godiya Muhammad told the reporter that the sale of firewood has increased due to a consistent rise in the price of cooking gas and kerosene, which the residents find challenging to afford since a majority of them are subsistence farmers whose income comes from the sales of their harvest.
“Majority of the families here are into farming and others rear livestock like goats, pigs, and dogs, especially the men, so many households cannot afford the price for gas or other means of cooking; instead, they go for firewood since it’s cheap here, and we don’t know other better ways to cook without being exposed to smoke,” she said.
Meanwhile, this situation negates the plan by the federal government to ensure that the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as cooking fuel grows from the current 5 per cent to 90 per cent in the next 10 years, while expressing concern that over 900,000 people are negatively impacted annually from the use of kerosene, firewood and charcoal in cooking across Nigeria.
Effect On Households
About 7 million deaths occur yearly from ambient and household air pollution. Household air pollution accounted for the loss of an estimated 86 million healthy life years in 2019, with the most significant burden falling on women living in low- and middle-income countries.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), household air pollution exposure leads to non-communicable diseases, including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
Smoke emanating from firewood used for cooking is the third greatest killer of women and children in Nigeria, as no fewer than 98,000 Nigerian women die annually from smoke inhaled from cooking with firewood.
Speaking on the harmful effects of cooking with firewood and charcoal on households, Dr Faith, a medical practitioner, said the effect include “lower back pain from excessive bending, excavation of asthma, irritation of the eyes (conjunctivitis), cataract, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute bronchiolitis in children and some others, but these are the common ones.”
“People cooking with firewood could also have Chronic Obstruction Pulmonary disease (COPD), a respiratory condition that occurs with long-term exposure to smoke. It comes with chronic cough, [and] difficulty in breathing.”
However, she said there is a need to raise awareness and let women, especially those in rural areas, know about the adverse effects of indoor pollution.
“The solution is that women should have access to some clean cooking stove method or technology. If this happens, we are bound to see in another three to five years drop-in kind of health-related cases around the chest, back pain or sight problem,” she said.
Remarkably, women and children in Nigeria bear the most significant health burden from polluting fuels in homes, as they typically labour over household chores such as cooking and collecting firewood. They spend more time exposed to harmful smoke from polluting fuels as well as the risk of injury while gathering fuel in less secure environments.
Each year, about 3.2 million people die prematurely from illnesses attributable to household air pollution caused by the incomplete combustion of solid fuels and kerosene used for cooking, according to WHO data. Almost half of all deaths due to lower respiratory infection among children under 5 years of age are caused by inhaling particulate matter (soot) from household air pollution.
Without substantial policy action, 2.1 billion people are estimated to continue lacking access to clean fuels and technologies in 2030. There is a particularly critical need for action in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth has outpaced access to clean cooking, and about 923 million people lacked access in 2020, according to WHO fact sheets.
It is essential to increase the use of clean fuels and technologies to reduce household air pollution and protect health. These include solar, electricity, biogas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas, alcohol fuels, as well as biomass stoves that meet the emission targets in the WHO Guidelines.
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