In the UK, we are blessed with safe cooking facilities: the days of cooking over an open fire are long gone. However, nearly 3 billion people around the world do not have access to safe fuel or cooking facilities. Sadly, an estimated 180,000 deaths every year are caused by burns – the vast majority occurring in the homes of people in low- and middle-income countries.
Meet Martha and Judith, just two of the 3 billion people without access to safe cooking facilities. Martha lives in Londoni village in the Singida region of Tanzania with her grandmother, Judith. Martha and her family farm maize, sunflower seeds and other crops to make a living. Every day, Martha told us, she goes to the forest and it takes her an hour to collect enough firewood to cook their food.
One morning, in September 2017, Martha was sitting at home, warming herself by the fire and watching through her doorway to check the goats were going out. Suddenly, she realised her clothes were on fire: sparks from the fire had set them alight. ‘When my clothes were burning, I tried to escape, but unfortunately I couldn’t as I was already in danger.’
Sadly, Martha had to spend a lot of time in the hospital recovering, which left her family with an enormous medical bill. She had kept her clothes on, even after the flames were put out, so the burns were deep. However, in a positive turn of events, the cost of her treatment was covered by someone from Kilimatinde Trust, the hospital where Martha was treated.
Martha was released from hospital nine months after the accident and, in the words of her grandmother, ‘She has not only survived but she has continued to amaze her community with her improvements over time’.
‘When my clothes were burning, I tried to escape, but unfortunately I couldn’t as I was already in danger.’
This is just one person’s burn story: many do not have a positive ending. With access to cleaner and more efficient cookstoves, people will spend less time collecting firewood and cooking, freeing them up for more productive tasks, such as children being able to attend school. Also, the people spending the most time cooking (mostly women and children) will be safer and healthier because of stoves that either; use an alternative fuel to firewood which would reduce the burn and smoke inhalation risk or improved stoves that are safer and healthier for the user.
We can take a clear message from Martha’s story: access to efficient, clean and safe ways to cook is important, not only to save lives but also to pull people out of poverty.
Current progress is too slow for people like Martha and Judith. If we do not increase global efforts to increase access to ‘clean cooking’, then 2.3 billion people – almost a third of the world’s population – will still be without it in 2030.
It’s hard to imagine what it must be like having to spend an hour every day collecting firewood before you can even start thinking about cooking: all we have to do is switch on the hob. It is unfair that access to electricity and clean sources of cooking are not evenly distributed. That is why we are calling on the World Bank to invest more money into clean energy so that we can Light Up the Darkness and lift people out of poverty.
Have you joined in and signed our petition yet?