By: Allie Anderson, `13
India as a nation is known for its vibrant and colorful culture, its unique and spicy food, and its relatively recent emergence as a major world power. The bustling streets of New Delhi teem with street vendors selling everything from handmade clothing and jewelry full of vibrant colors and patterns, to traditional Indian na’an and daal. The city has also experienced significant development and urbanization in recent history, with banks and other industries popping up on every corner. Despite these physical advancements that have been made in India over the past few decades, India also continues to be known for some of the world’s poorest air quality and worst rates of outdoor air pollution. However, though outdoor air pollution is an obvious hazard in India, indoor air pollution that results from the use of biomass burning cookstoves in rural regions is just as large a cause for public health concerns, specifically for women and young children. In order to address India’s struggle with indoor air pollution, many policy makers, organizations and researchers have turned to “clean cookstoves” as a solution to this problem.
I became interested in researching this issue through a study conducted by Duke University, and because the health impacts of biomass burning cookstoves are truly global; 3 billion people worldwide rely on biomass fuel to cook and provide light for their families, 916 million of whom live in India. However, economic, cultural, and political obstacles have stood in the way of successful and sustainable adoption of improved cookstoves. The advances and improvements made to the stoves’ technologies have in the past been geared toward fuel efficiency and thus environmental friendliness, rather than focusing on the stove users’ needs and preferences. Though researchers adapted and improved them to be less harmful to the environment and to human health, these same researchers failed to research adequately the culture and traditions of the societies into which they hoped to implement their new stove technologies. The most successful studies in rural India that established more than minimal adoption of improved cookstoves made stove improvements within the context of the societies in which they worked, but how to most effectively implement a sufficient rate of improved stove adoption in India has yet to be established.