indoor air pollution – not just a public health concern

What are Non-English speaking countries doing to stop air pollution?

indoor air pollution – not just a public health concern

Postby Wilberforce » Sun Sep 07, 2014 7:24 pm

indoor air pollution – not just a public health concern but a human rights issue.

By Diana Wangari

Early in the morning, the scene in a larger area of rural Kenya is that of women walking towards their kitchen often situated in a separate structure next to their living quarters.

Homestead after homestead, the woman gathers firewood beneath her three stone make shift cooker or begins the process of getting the coal on the jiko to light. Tabitha Ibeere has to go through this same process every morning where in a few minutes smoke begins to fill the kitchen which has one small window to act as a source of ventilation. She has to squint to prevent her eyes from tearing.

She can't let this slow her down, she must prepare breakfast before her children awake and her husband gets back from delivering milk. Her husband arrives and Tabitha has to take his breakfast to him, he doesn't like eating in the kitchen and in fact he rarely enters it. He expects his wife to handle all matters involving the kitchen and if he ever wants anything he only needs to call out her name.

The process of preparing meals accompanied by hours of blowing into a metal cylinder just to keep the embers from dying out, isn't his concern as is seen in most traditional African cultures. He does however, notice that his wife is coughing as she serves him breakfast, he assumes it must be the cold and advises her to wear a warmer sweater.

Tabitha's children are by now awake and fully dressed for school, they unlike their father prefer to have their meals in the kitchen right next to their mother who's much more tolerant of their playful ways. The first born is six years old, he doesn't mind the smoke in the kitchen that much. He's used to it by now, what he does mind is the smell of smoke on his clothes.

Before, he would be forced to hang his school sweater outside for aeration every evening, he's wiser now. He simply doesn't wear his sweater until he's about to leave for school, this is despite the chilly morning weather. Dennis figures he's better off that way, he doesn't want to be teased at school. "Some of my friends use stoves in their homes and as such tease the rest of us who come in smelling like smoke," Dennis said. Once his done, he quickly runs out of the kitchen and one is left wondering if he's simply excited to be going to school or just to be out of the smoke filled kitchen with soot covering its walls.

This leaves Tabitha with Joyce, her four year old daughter, her husband has long since gone to work in the nearby quarry. The two have a long day ahead of them, they have to trek to their farm and back. They, however, must return by 1pm not just for lunch but to prepare for the evening. On their way back, they gather firewood some of which the little girl carries in an attempt of lightening her mother's load. She understands from an early age that this is the role her community has assigned to women.

Side by side, mother and daughter sit preparing that evening's meal that's until Joyce starts coughing. The cough doesn't abate and soon a wheeze can be heard. Her mother tells her to go wear a sweater and stay in the main house where the smoke won't aggravate her cough. This has happened before, Tabitha thinks it's simply a reaction to the cold evening weather as it only presents in the early morning hours or late evening. It's not just a cold. Son and husband eventually return, hungry for their evening meal. Tabitha spends over six hours in her kitchen, she has accepted this as her way of life. But as I left, I asked what she wished life was different, her response, "No, I only wish it was better."

We often approach, indoor air pollution as a public health issue and rightly so. The health issues surrounding traditional cooking methods that utilize firewood, coal are numerous: asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, lung and respiratory system diseases among others. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly four million people worldwide die prematurely from illnesses attributable to indoor air pollution.

As Dr. Jared Mecha, a consultant on respiratory diseases in the School of Medicine, University of Nairobi, Kenya has not been spared. "When it comes to indoor air pollution, we have a long way to go more so in the rural setting. It's not simply a matter of raising awareness but providing solutions that are relevant to the community," he said. " We have to be practical in the options we present. You have to factor in the social, economic and cultural aspects as well."

This is a message that came across going through a day in the life of Tabitha Ibeere, who like many women in her setting, provision of better cooking technologies isn't simply a matter of improving livelihoods but of empowering women as well. An initiative taken up by the Global Alliance for clean stoves and echoed by the work of the Kenya Medical Research Institute by formation of partnerships that strive to lower indoor pollution in households in rural Kenya. This is the way forward, as indoor air pollution isn't just a public health concern but a human rights issue as well.

• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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