How does your cooking practices affect your health: Cooking should not Harm or Kill

Have you ever thought about how your cooking practices affect your health? Well, if you are lucky to be using gas or electricity for cooking, you are very fortunate and you should be thankful to be among 60% of the people who have access to clean energy for cooking around the world. For this, Congratulations! You have won the lottery of birth either from the country you were born or your income is good enough to afford a cleaner source of fuel.

However, did you know that the other 40% of the world’s population rely on very unclean source of energy for cooking mainly solid fuels such as firewood, charcoal, dung and others? This is nearly about 3-billion located in developing nations in Eastern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin-America. This use of unclean fuel and stoves emit huge amount of smoke during cooking, which causes adverse health risks to people who are exposed at home.

This is showing on the left the effects of using traditional stoves with firewood: Health problems, deforestation, and gathering of woods done by women in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the right section, it is showing the better improved stoves designed and manufactured by BURN  design Lab. Caption taken from the BURN website

The most up-to date estimates from the 2014 WHO (the World Health Organization) report, show that about 4.3-million deaths a year worldwide, are attributed to exposure to cookstove smoke [3]. Lots of these deaths comes from various respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as pneumonia, lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, and stroke among others [3]. This is a big problem in developing countries. In fact, the same WHO report estimates that it goes hand in hand with the effects of tobacco globally. Tobacco causes a little over 6-million deaths a year, which means that the household air pollution effects comes second after tobacco [2]. As a matter of facts, an hour of cooking on a traditional wood cooking fire indoor produces smoke of about 400-cigarettes [2]. This is even more depressing when you think about it because in these developing countries, mothers and children are affected more than men as they are the ones, mainly involved in cooking activities. Can you imagine a baby of a few months old breathing this amount of smoke on back of her mother as often as 2 or 3-times a day? This may sound like fiction especially if you have never been to a developing country, but it is real. I see it more often when I visit back home in Rwanda or when I am on a field trip in Ghana.

Three-stone good pic 2015
This picture is showing  an example of a traditional stove, “Three-stone fire stove” used in many developing countries.

How can we address this issue as a community and what can we done about it?

As you can imagine, the international community is looking for multiple ways to address this concern worldwide. The recent Clean Cooking Conference brought together around 500-people from 57-countries around the world both from the private and the public sector. Different organizations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and their partners are already joining forces with researchers, NGOs, and the local community to find creative ways to facilitate the adoption, the affordability, and the access of clean fuels and clean cookstoves in developing nations.

A few weeks ago, as a mechanical and an environmental engineer working in field, I was fortunate enough to attend a big 5 day-conference organized by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in Accra-Ghana. This conference aimed at bringing the private and the public sector together in order to share ideas and opinions about promoting the use of Clean Fuels and Clean Cookstoves around the world. It was a wonderful time for researchers to exchange their ideas and techniques, for NGOs meeting local communities, for investors looking for business opportunities, and governments to evaluate their policies looking for partnerships from the all participants.

Below are the issues surrounding accelerating the use of Clean Fuels and Clean Cookstoves:

2015-11-10 10.14.17
This is a picture of the Cookstove Conference hosted by the UN, I attended on November 12-15 in Accra-Ghana
  • Adoption:

One of the most difficult tasks in helping people to cook cleaner is convincing them to switch from traditional stoves to improved stoves. Basically, this is when organizations, who think that they know what people want, come in and distribute the stoves mostly for free in the incubation phase, but surprisingly, researchers have been astonished by the fact that local people do not switch to improved stoves as fast as they had anticipated. The adoption issue is well-understood and cared about than it used to be in the past, but there is still a long way to go in terms of figuring out how you get people to adopt good clean and efficient cookstoves.

  1. The locals have been using these traditional stoves for a really long time, their parents, ancestors used them. The entire generation has been using them for a really long time, local food and cuisine cooked on these stoves have an easily identifiable test that they like and enjoy. Although these stoves can get very smoky, somehow, they have been used to that in some respect. The easiest way to think about this problem is, comparing it to somebody who smokes. Although many smokers know that cigarette smoke harm their lives, it is been shown that it is tough to quit smoking. Simply, expecting them to quit overnight, you would have to be a fool. This is the same with cookstoves, expect that in this case, lots of cooks do not know that the smoke they are inhaling is dangerous to them, and their kids, and the whole family in the household.
  2. The second most issue related to adoption is the mismatch between stove manufacturers and the local users. A lot of these manufacturers are from western countries, Envirofit, BURN, Biolite, are some of big names known this field, so when a stove is made in the United States, engineers who design them might not necessarily be familiar with local needs and the technology, which will match what the locals want. It would be like me trying to design various ski-tools when I have not skied in my life. I could try, but my designs would probably be better if I were collaborating with professional skiers to get an idea about what they want. For example, it has been shown that a lot of these stove made in western countries tend to be smaller compared to big pots and dishes that locals in Sub-saharan African needs. However, in the recent years, these big stove manufacturers have decided to move their factories to East-Africa and elsewhere to incorporate their stove designs with locals needs and accommodation. This is a big step and needs to be encouraged to other stove manufacturers.
This is me at Work, analyzing some PM2.5 samples collected from in-field cooking emissions in Northern-Ghana
  • Affordability:

Another big unfortunate situation is that these new improved stoves are quite expensive compared to the income of the locals. According to United Nations, about 2.8 billion worldwide people survive on less than $ 2.00 a day. This is almost the same number of people who depend on solid fuels use for cooking and lighting. What does this tell us? This means that a big number of people who needs these new stoves cannot afford them. They are too expensive. The “good” stoves available range from $ 50.00 to $ 300.00 per stove. Even after subsidies from grants and various NGOs, the cost for these stoves is simply not affordable for locals to afford them on a “sustainable basis”. You cannot simply make a clean and efficient stoves for $ 10- $30 dollars, which would be the price range that would be at least affordable to many people in the Global South.

So, affordability is still an issue, a very big one too. Quite frankly, after spending a good 2.5 years studying, learning, and working in this field, I have come to a decisive conclusion that a good way to accelerate the use of improved stoves is simply helping and getting people out poverty first. Because, otherwise, how do you expect people to afford a $ 300.00 stove when they live under $ 2.00 a day? It is just not feasible and in my opinion, we should focus on affordability in the long-term, which will provide the sustainable use rather than simply giving out stoves for free once and lying to yourself that you have reduced the problem. What will the locals do after 1-2 years, when the stove you gave out is worn out and needs to be replaced? Affordability is the key and we should be focusing on this as much as we do for adoption, and innovation.

  • Accessibility of Clean Fuels and Affordability:

Everybody knows what good clean energy sources for cooking are. They are natural gas (LPG) and electricity. This are the main sources of energy that people in western countries use.  You may ask yourself why are we talking about “improved stoves” when we know exactly the best sources of energy such as gas and electricity? Well, the short answer is that we know about this, but these resources are even scarcer in developing countries. After all, two out three people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, for example. Thus, while natural gas and electricity are the “holy grail” of the energy sector, we are still lagging behind in relation to having enough energy  available for cooking in developing countries. If you don’t have even enough electricity for lighting, having abundant access for cooking would even be a dream. This is why improved stoves are seen as the transition before we have enough gas and electricity. Unfortunately, they have not been a good transition thus far, and some people wants to switch the efforts to gas and electricity instead of wasting time, effort and money in the so-called improved cookstoves.

Overall, it has been a real joy to work in this field and I have learned a lot since starting my research about 2.5 years ago. Thus, I am looking forward to how the cookstove sector will evolve in the years to come. As an entrepreneur, I am also looking for ways to invest in this sector, and I will be looking into venturing in the use of LPG in developing countries. My partners and I will be kicking off a wonderful project to supply gas tanks for cooking in Uganda and Rwanda in 2016. So, be on the lookout for some cool stuff!! We have noticed that there a huge market hungry for better cooking products in the Eastern-Africa region and we think that natural gas is good way to start.

I will continue to write about other issues related to cooking in developing countries. My next segment will be about the use of charcoal and deforestation and their relationship with cooking in the developing world. Feel free to check out the references below for more information and please message me for any questions or comments.

Until then, Peace and Love!

Didier Champion

Sources and References

[1] These cheap, clean stoves were supposed to save millions of lives. What happened?.

[2] Tackling the world’s forgotten Killer.

[3] Household Air Pollution and Health around the World, WHO Facts.

[4] Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

[5] Envirofit,

[6] BURN,

[7] Biolite,

[8] People who live under $ 2.00 dollars a day.

[9] Two of 3 people in Sub-Saharan African lack electricity, USAID.





Why You should care about the Climate COP21 Talks in Paris-France?

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine in the hallway at lunch time. A professor from the Environmental Engineering passed by and we quickly started chatting. As she was leaving to hurry to her destination, she mentioned we should hang out sometime and she said oh, the Paris Talks too are starting today, and we, the experts in this field should be talking about this.

Today, I was tired in the afternoon and wanted to find some good 30-min to relax my mind on. I thought to myself, let me try to find a good climate change talk to go to on Campus, and to my surprise, I could not find any. Really? As a Mechanical Engineering graduate student whose research cross paths with three departments at the University of Colorado-Boulder: Mechanical Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Atmospheric Science, I could not believe the fact that there are no talks to discuss about this important issue not only within the experts, but also to inform the public about Climate Change and Global Warming. A few questions came to my mind and I would like to share my thoughts about this:

  1. Where and what are all the wonderful professors, graduate students, undergraduate students doing in the wake of these series of Climate talks?
  2. As experts, how do we not take advantage of this opportunity to inform the public about Climate Change and all its related issues?
  3. Why are we not talking about this among ourselves though seminars, conferences, and other venues?
  4. How do we expect the public to know the technicality and the complexity of these issues if we do not inform them? In the end, when the current business and Law schools students are leaders in the private sector and the public sector, we will call them ignorant for ignoring and denying global warming and climate change.

As always, the scientific community has been very mediocre at communicating with the public about what they do, interpreting their results in ways that people who are not scientists can grasp and understand. For example, one of the most used simple, but false explanations politicians have given when asked about global warming, they say, how is it that we still have cold winters if the planet is getting warmer? You see, for a simple questions like this, even a third grader science class student would know that it is totally wrong to compare single seasons in one setting. You have to analyze through climate weather patterns over time. Winters, and summers will still exist but when you look at average temperatures over an extended period of time, you notice that in fact, temperature levels are rising.

Another more-sophisticated answer would be to look at the ambient CO2 levels over time and observe how the ambient concentrations have been rising from the early 1900s to present: The beginning and the boom of the fossil fuel industry.  If you look at the graph below, showing a time series of CO2 ambient levels and the increase in global temperatures from early 1900s to Present. The graph shows that, for example in early 1900s, the ambient CO2 levels were around 295-ppm, but today, those levels have come risen up to 400-ppm. The same graph shows very well that there is a direct correlation between CO2-levels and the rise in global temperatures. Or you can see that when the ambient concentration were 320-ppm in 1960s, there was a net of zero increase of temperatures globally. However, since then, as the CO2-levels went up, the rise in temperatures has been going up to 0.6C as of today. However, if our reliance on fossil fuels keep rising, and stay numb about it, the rise in temperatures will keep up, and once we reach 2C increase, that is when we get in trouble according to the prediction made by climate scientists all over the World. Thus, part of the 2C-increase in global temperatures you have been reading about all over the media in the wake of COP21 Talks in Paris, France. This number comes from this basic understanding from all the leading climate experts all over the world.

I understand that students and professors might be busy during this time of the semester, but to me, as an air quality student, not talking about this COP21 or not informing and sharing with the public, would be like an astronaut student who seem to not care that NASA is planning to go Mars by 2030 or a soccer athlete student, who is not watching the final world-cup game when he has been offered tickets to go to the game or simply watch the game. It would be like a water expert from a municipality, who seems no to care when a certain toxic chemical has been found in the city’s water supply system. Or a firefighter, who is not worried that their city is on fire. It just does not add up.

I guess we, undergraduate and graduate students, are worried more about our finals, and research. Our Professors are also busy (as they are always are) with preparing courses, final exams, research and other bureaucratic tasks that they have to deal with and manage. Are we really that busy to not even have an opportunity to discuss about this at least among the members of our university?

Despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree on the fact that climate change is indeed occurring, one in five Americans still deny in the effects of climate change [2]. This is very concerning and should alert scientists about communicating their work and results better. Have you ever notice how irritated we get when a politician makes such stupid and ignorant comments about climate change? For example, three of the GOP candidates have made comments about how they simply do not care about Climate change: Marco Rubio, claiming that “he is not a scientist” [3]. Thus, denying Climate Change as he wants. Jeb Bush, saying that “Scientists are going to take a back seat when he gets elected” [3]. Basically, indicating that he does not care about what scientists say. And finally, Ben Carson saying that Climate Change is simply “irrelevant” [3]. Comments like these should be very worrisome especially when you imagine that these three guys are running for President of the United States, one of the highest CO2-emitters country in the World.

As scientists, it is our duty and responsibility to communicate with the public about our work and what talks like COP21 mean to the members of the general public. We should be talking to our colleagues at law schools, business schools, and other schools about this. I do not mean to ignore to other departments, but given the fact that most of the current law students will become our next politicians, business students become the next CEOs in the private sector, and these two groups have shown to be among the ones which huge skepticism about climate change, and the positions they tend to hold in the private and public sector can affect many members of our society to a greater extent than others. With that in mind, all students are the leaders for tomorrow and should be informed about issues like this. If they are not, the society will bear the consequences in the future in one way or another.

As the Climate talks continue, I urge you to talk to your friends at school, at work about what is going in the next two weeks from November 30 to December 11th 2015. Educating yourself about COP21 is not only good for you, but also for the society as a whole. Talk about it at coffee breaks, lunch or dinner or wherever. If you need more details about the Climate Talks in Paris, visit this page to learn more at . Remember we are in this together and we only have one planet: Planet Earth. The more and the faster we ruin it, the more and the faster we screw ourselves as well.

Also, remember that, it is okay to not-be a scientist or a climate scientist for that matter. In fact, I am not claiming to be one either. After all, we each depend on each other. For example, I am not tax professional. So, every year, I need a tax accountant to help me with my tax returns. Just like other subjects, the most important thing is to ask those who know or who are experts in this field and to try to educate yourself on the subject.

Good luck and keep in mind that #WeHaveOnlyOnePlanet and #WeAreInItTogether.

Peace and Love

Didier Champion


Sources and references

[1] CO2 levels and temperature correlation over the 20th century.

[2] Who are the Climate deniers?

[3] GOP Candidates and Climate change denying.

[4] The Official website of the COP21.

[5] The graph references in the article: