With World Pneumonia Day having just passed, the topic of clean cookstoves resurfaced. The conversation about clean cookstoves revolves around their hazardous and life threatening affect on women and children, producing indoor air pollution. But they create another hazardous and life threatening situation for women and children, which is much less talked about, burns.
Most of the deaths and deformities caused by burns in low and middle-income countries are suffered by women and children and are related to the nature of domestic appliances used for cooking and heating their homes, namely, their cookstoves. The typical traditional stove is a 3 stone cooking fire, where 3 stones of similar size are used to prop up a pot and a fire is made underneath. Most cooking is done inside the home, in cramped, enclosed environments, leaving women and children vulnerable to the open flames. Women tend to wear long, traditional skirts and can easily have their clothing catch on fire if they get too close to the flames. It also makes it easy for the children to inadvertently fall into or step into the open fire. In addition, young children can easily get hold of the pot cooking on top of the stove and topple it over onto them, scalding them.
Ninety-five percent of burns occur in low and middle-income countries and fire related deaths rank among the 15 leading causes of death among 5-29 year olds, according to the World Health Organization. They are the 4th leading cause of trauma worldwide, following traffic accidents, falls and interpersonal violence. Burns also cause lifelong disabilities and deformities which not only can lead to stigma and rejection in a community, but also the inability to perform day to day tasks in order to survive.
Yet, in the discussion of introducing new cookstove technology, burns are rarely, if ever mentioned. If you look through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ website, or look through transcripts of talks given by Hillary Clinton or Julia Roberts, who are both clean cookstove advocates, they do not once mention that introducing new cooking technology as a way to reduce burn injuries and deaths, the only thing that is talked about it reducing indoor air pollution.
There is quite a bit on support and advocacy for burn victims in developed countries (who usually have sustained these burns in ways other than cooking) but if you try to find out more about the attention burns is getting internationally, you will find a few rudimentary websites with little information on them, such as the International Society for Burn Injuries or the African Burn Society. So where is the burn victim champion in all of this talk about clean cookstoves?
Maybe we should change the campaign to providing SAFE cookstoves rather than clean cookstoves, and start talking about the many hazards that currently used cookstoves are causing.