Today we celebrate the second United Nations International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. We are particularly pleased that this year’s theme is Healthy Air, Healthy Planet as it will help raise global awareness of air pollution and its devastating impact on health. The UN is very clear about the scale of the problem: Air pollution is the largest environmental risk to global public health and it particularly impacts children, women and the elderly, with increased links to diseases such as dementia, diabetes, COVID-19, cardio-vascular and neurological diseases. Developed countries have greatly improved their air quality in recent years but many developing countries, still reliant on wood and other solid fuels for cooking and heating, lag behind. The result is that many vulnerable and marginalized people also suffer from the worst air quality. These are the very people DelAgua is helping in rural Rwanda.
Our Rwanda stoves project is tackling the issue of household air pollution at scale, dramatically improving the air quality and the health of the 640,000 families who have received one of our stoves. More people die prematurely from household air pollution than Malaria, HIV and TB combined and it is the leading environmental cause of death and disability, ahead of unsafe water and lack of sanitation. It’s a silent, stealthy killer, causing chronic lung disease over time as every day the mothers and children who cook and tend the open fire inhale the toxic smoke. The DelAgua stove burns cleanly and efficiently, significantly reducing cooking times.
Research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows that by using the DelAgua stove, respiratory health is hugely improved due to a 73% reduction in household air pollution when using the stove outdoors and there is a 27.7% reduction in cookstove emission exposure among children. The stove is also portable which is vital: Rwanda has an extended rainy season and families can quickly and easily move the stove to a doorway or porch if it is too wet to cook outside, minimising emissions in the home. Other wood stoves are used or built into the kitchen which causes significant smoke inhalation and results in respiratory diseases. Research shows that prior to receiving the DelAgua stove, 85% of households cooked indoors. On receipt of the stove, thanks to its portability combined with our comprehensive health education programme, 77% of households now never cook indoors.
Education and ongoing support is central to what we do. Every family is visited by a Community Health Worker who explains the dangers of cooking on a traditional fire and household air pollution and the health advantages of cooking on the stove and they also make sure the family know how to use it. Because the stove is designed for the women and the reality of their lives the women find it easy to use and quick to light. Behaviour change is immediate and lasting. 99% of stoves are still in daily use after 2 years.
The DelAgua stoves’ contribution to ‘Healthy Air, Healthy Planet’ goes beyond household air pollution: cooking over open fires or inefficient stoves emits one-quarter of global black carbon emissions—the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. The DelAgua stove also uses at least 50% less wood and burns cleanly so CO2 emissions are reduced by 14 tons over its 7 year life.
On International Day of Clean Air the last word is with Philomene’s family of 9 who received a stove last year. When we asked what difference the DelAgua stove had made, the children immediately rubbed their eyes and throats and then grinned: the lack of smoke meant they no longer experienced the sore eyes and a burning throat which before was an everyday fact of life for them. What they didn’t know was that the smoke was also killing them. Happily, they, along with more than 3 million Rwandans who benefit from a DelAgua stove, can now experience healthy air at home.