Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Can a stove cook up a nice story for Kalavati Devi?

                                                                         by Meenakshi Kapoor & Christian Liedtke

Kalavati Devi is 46 years old. She lives with her husband, two sons and a daughter in Village Chachrait of Pitthoragarh district in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand in India. One of her sons and the daughter go to a government school in the area. Her elder son works as a daily wage labourer. Her husband, Kesar Singh sings in religious ceremonies and temples on festivals and special occasions. He gets small sums of money as token of appreciation. Besides, the family owns a small patch of land, the produce from which is largely consumed by the family itself. Summing up all this, the family income of the household is Rs. 3000 a month.

Kalavati Devi lives in a small house of two rooms and a separate kitchen cum pantry (for storing grains and other eatables for the family). She cooks food in a traditional manner on the fire and a tripod stand burning wood. She cooks three meals a day and spends an average of one hour in cooking one meal.

Kalavati Devi cooking in her kitchen

Of late, she has been facing respiratory problems and difficulty in breathing. On consulting the doctor in the local Government Hospital, she found out that it was because of the smoke created by the burning of wood in the stove.  Although the consultation is free, she spends an average of Rs. 100 a month on her medicines and traveling to the hospital (There is no road connectivity to the village and the hospital is accessible only on foot or by means of animal led carts).  She says, “I educate one of my children with Rs. 120 a month and spending almost the same amount on myself pinches me.” 

Although, she always found the smoke disturbing, she never considered it as a major problem till she consulted the doctor.  In her words: “I used to get a burning sensation in my eyes and used to cough because of the smoke but I never took it seriously.  Besides, I cannot do anything about it. If I am cooking with firewood, smoke will be there.” It seems that she has accepted smoke as an unavoidable condition associated with cooking. 

She believes that food can be cooked without smoke only on kerosene or a LPG stove. When asked about the reason for not using one, she replied: “We cannot afford LPG or kerosene as they are very costly, whereas firewood is free. My husband collects it from the forest. It is lesser of a burden for my husband to spend Rs. 100 a month for my medical treatment as compared to the cost of using kerosene or LPG for cooking.”  Hence, she feels that with her limited resources she has no way of escaping the smoke associated with cooking. “I will have to live with the cooking smoke. With our monthly income, I do not see a way out. I hope my son earns better in future and can afford LPG.”

On asking about improved cookstove, she says: “What is an improved cookstove? I have never heard of it. Will the food cook faster on it?” 

There are similar stories to be heard from hundreds of households located in small hamlets and villages in the state of Uttarakhand in India. Their proximal location to the forests and free availability of firewood makes it a preferred fuel over LPG and kerosene. In such a scenario, use of improved cookstoves can prove extremely beneficial. 

Improved coosktoves are based on technologies that burn biomass fuels efficiently and in a clean manner. They reduce the consumption of fuels considerably and thereby reduce the time spent on collection of these fuels and associated labour. They also emit very little smoke as compared to the traditional stoves or open fire and, therefore, have positive health impacts.
GIZ, under the IGEN-RE project, is supporting the market development for improved cookstoves in
Uttarakhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh in India. It is expected that the use of improved cookstoves will help in reducing the instances of smoke related health hazards amongst women. Coupled with the reduction of cooking time and fuel requirement, improved cookstoves will make the lives of Kalavati Devi and many such women more convenient.

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