30 May

Map of the Week: Energy and Access to Clean Cooking

By Chiara Ryals

A lack of access to clean cooking methods is a widespread issue that comes at an intersection of socio-economic, gender, health, and environmental concerns. Some 2.3 billion people around the world do not have access to clean cooking, and 1 billion of these are in Africa, where four in five people cook over open fires and traditional stoves. Particularly in rural areas, a significant portion of the population relies on traditional biomass sources such as wood, charcoal, and animal dung for cooking. 

The burning of solid biomass exposes individuals to harmful pollutants, which can lead to respiratory infections, heart disease, and other serious health issues. The World Health Organization estimates that household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels is one of the leading causes of premature deaths in low-income countries. Women and children are disproportionately affected since they are primarily responsible for cooking, spending more time indoors. This exposure results in millions of preventable deaths each year.

Gender dynamics are reinforced in communities that lack clean cooking access. In many rural communities, women are tasked with gathering fuel and cooking, activities that are both time-consuming and physically demanding. On average, women and children in developing countries spend up to 20 hours a week gathering fuel for cooking. The time spent collecting fuel leaves less time for women to engage in educational and economic opportunities, thereby reinforcing gender inequality. 

Traditional cooking methods also have environmental impacts. The widespread use of biomass for cooking contributes to deforestation and land degradation, impacting local ecosystems and biodiversity. Additionally, open fires can release black carbon and other pollutants, with household energy use accounting for more than half of all global black carbon emissions, which are a significant contributor to climate change. Today’s energy efficient stoves can reduce fuel use by 30-60%, lowering harmful emissions, reducing the pressure on natural resources, and promoting more sustainable practices.

A transition to clean methods such as gas or electric cooking could save 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Changing old methods and practices on a large scale would be costly. However, the investment may be worth it. For IEA expert Daniel Wetzel, “Dollar for dollar, it’s hard to imagine a single intervention that could have more bang for its buck in terms of health, emissions, and development than this.” As something that can be implemented in the short-term to mitigate long-term impacts on public health and the environment, clean cooking solutions should not be overlooked.