Home Andhra Pradesh Dirty cooking fuels threaten infants in India, says U.S. study

Dirty cooking fuels threaten infants in India, says U.S. study

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Dirty cooking fuels threaten infants in India, says U.S. study

Poor indoor air quality is much deadlier than outdoor air pollution that gets a lot of attention, the study said

GUWAHATI Exposure to dirty cooking fuels in India, where air pollution is among the worst in the world, kills 27 of 1,000 babies and children annually, new research by a university in the United States said.

The researchers said the mortality effect is much higher for young girls than boys in Indian households. This is not because girls are weaker or susceptible to pollution-related respiratory illnesses but because families are less likely to seek treatment when a young daughter falls ill or begins to cough.

The Cornell University study cited the sixth annual World Air Quality Report of 2023 that said 83 of the top 100 cities on earth with the worst air pollution are in India. All these Indian cities had levels of pollution 10 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines.

Also read | Death rates from air pollution spikes vary across cities: Study

While outdoor air pollution gets a lot of attention, the Environmental Protection Agency and other organisations suggest that poor indoor air quality is much deadlier because people spend the majority of their time at home, the study.

Titled ‘Cooking Fuel Choice and Child Mortality in India’, the study was published recently in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation said.

“This is the first paper that gives a robust causal estimate of the true cost of using biomass fuels for households in terms of the young lives lost,” Arnab Basu, the lead author of the study said. He is a professor at Cornell’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at the university.

“We used the comprehensive nationally representative demographic and health survey data from over 25 years. We were able to identify all kinds of polluting fuels used by households,” he said.

The researchers used the household survey data from 1992 to 2016 to determine the human cost of reliance on dirty cooking fuels, and found that the largest effect was shown in infants under a month old. “That’s an age group where lungs are not fully developed and when infants are most closely stuck to their mothers, who are often the primary home cooks,” Mr Basu said.

The mortality effect is much higher for young girls than boys in India because of preferential treatment for boys who fall ill or begin to cough. “A switch to cleaner fuels would not only have a positive impact on overall childhood health, but would also address this neglect of daughters,” he said.

According to the WHO, about a third of the world’s population cooks food over an open fire or in stoves fuelled by biomass (wood, animal dung, and crop waste), contributing to an estimated 3.2 million deaths per year worldwide.

But mandating change is difficult as the “focus is on outdoor air pollution and how crop waste is burned” in India.

“Governments can make laws against crop burning and can give farmers payments in advance to incentivise them not to burn,” Mr Basu said.

The paper underscored the need to consider indoor pollution as equally important, with an understanding that factors such as regional agricultural land ownership, forest cover, household characteristics, and family structure play a role.

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