There are many glaring injustices in the world. But what is most appalling is when an injustice is ignored for decades and brings needless hardship to billions of people-even more so when the solutions are right in front of us. That's the case today with cooking.
Few things are more routine in our daily lives than preparing a meal. But for more than 2 billion people around the world, half of them in Africa, the simple act of cooking shapes their entire lives: from spending hours each day collecting firewood or dung to cook, missing out on education and work opportunities, and serious health complications from the inhalation of toxic fumes. Women and girls are by far the worst affected.
Today, nearly four in five Africans still cook meals over open fires or on basic stoves. And this number is climbing every year. On average, households spend five hours a day gathering firewood and cooking over rudimentary stoves.
What's shocking is that the tools to improve this situation are readily available and affordable. All it requires is political will-and some money. To put things in perspective, annual investments needed are roughly the amount wealthy economies spend on coffee in a week.
By burning wood over basic stoves for hours a day in poorly ventilated close quarters, millions of African women inhale harmful toxic fumes and smoke from charcoal, firewood, coal, agricultural waste, and animal dung. As such, a lack of clean cooking contributes to 3.7 million premature deaths annually around the world, with women and children most at risk.
The inhalation of toxic fumes is the second biggest killer in Africa and contributes up to 60% of early deaths due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Under-representation of women in voting and governance means the availability of clean cooking options remains a low priority on the political agenda, even though it would lead to healthier lives and greater choices.
While billions of people stand to benefit from a switch to clean cooking technologies and methods, so too does the climate and local ecosystems. A switch to any of the major clean cooking technologies including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) fired stoves, will reduce emissions and deforestation. It would cut global carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 billion tonnes, the same amount generated by all planes and ships worldwide today.
The clean cooking challenge is not a technical problem. It is a policy and finance issue.
Based on International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates of $4 billion a year between now and 2030, stoves and infrastructure needed to provide universal access to clean cooking in sub-Saharan Africa, can easily be deployed. It will require strong national leadership and programmes underpinned by financial support from development institutions and the private sector. The cost of reaching this goal is relatively small, but its impacts will be transformative in the lives of many Africans and communities.
Domestic clean cooking stove production, sales and delivery, marketing, and public awareness campaigns could create 1.5 million jobs, increase education opportunities and improve the quality of life of many millions of people.
However, without help to deal with the upfront costs of a new stove-whether electric or LPG- consumers have little incentive to switch.
For low-income households, a new cooking stove can swallow up to three-quarters of monthly income, depending on the technology. Yet, making this necessary switch will pay back as much as four times the upfront investment within a year, due to the higher efficiencies of modern solutions.
In these turbulent economic and geopolitical times, concessional finance from the African Development Bank Group and other international institutions has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the world doesn't slide backwards on issues such as poverty, public health, and well-being-including clean cooking.
This is why we are calling on the international community to work with African countries and make available the capital required to address this solvable problem with the participation of governments, development banks, global climate funds, NGOs, and the private sector, including energy majors who have also been vocal on this issue. Governments and funders then need to follow through to ensure enough people and resources are deployed on the ground and are empowered to put these efforts into action.
The benefits that universal access to clean cooking would bring for health, gender equality, and economic development, the protection of forests, reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and the prevention of biodiversity loss are huge. Efforts to make progress on these, and other issues, as well as tackling climate change, will remain futile if the demand for clean cooking remains ignored.
We can make a real difference and bring about tangible change. Now is the time to do so.