International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED) has disclosed that 93,000 Nigerians die annually as a result of smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood, with women and children as the most affected persons. ICEED’s Executive Director in Nigeria, Mr. Ewah Otu Eleri revealed that a 2012 study report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that deaths from firewood smoke is the third highest killer in the country after malaria (225,000) and HIV (192,000). He attributed the ugly trend to lack of access to cooking gas and kerosene.
His words: “It is shocking and regrettable that 56 percent of households in Nigerian urban cities still use firewood to cook. In Ebonyi, only 12 percent of households have access to kerosene while only 6.1 of the entire population of Lagos State use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for cooking. About 30 million households depend solely on wood as a source of fuel for their daily cooking.”
Otu Eleri further stated that in a bid to reduce drastically this alarming number of deaths being recorded annually in the country, ICEED in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) came up with Energy Efficient Woodstoves Project in Nigeria with the aim of providing efficient energy woodstoves to Nigerian households. The aim of the organization is to achieve better respiratory health, create new jobs from stove production, distribution and retailing in the country, empower women by building stove sale networks and support the country to develop sustainable cooking energy policy frameworks.
No doubt, firewood smoke is hazardous to the health of women, and the point must be made that most people especially in the rural areas make use of firewood to cook because they do not have any other alternative. Unfortunately most of them are oblivious of the risk firewood smoke poses to their health. It is important to note that, numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems.
These include increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. Furthermore, although wood smoke conjures up fond memories of sitting by a cozy fire, it is important to know that the components of wood smoke and cigarette smoke are quite similar, and that many components of both are carcinogenic.
Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs. Wood smoke also contains chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin. Also, wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children. It also increases children’s risk of lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Again, wood smoke exposure can depress the immune system and damage the layer of cells in the lungs that protect and cleanse the airways.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), toxic air pollutants are components of wood smoke. Wood smoke can cause cough, headache, eye and throat irritation in otherwise healthy people. For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease and those with cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful— even short exposures can prove dangerous. The particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system.
Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs where they remain for months, causing structural damage and chemical changes. Wood smoke’s carcinogenic chemicals adhere to these tiny particles, which enter deep into the lungs. Recent studies show that fine particles that go deep into the lungs increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. EPA warns that for people with heart disease, short- term exposures have been linked to heart attacks and arrhythmia.
If you have heart disease, these tiny particles may cause you to experience chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and fatigue. It, therefore, behooves the government to act decisively to halt the menacing spread and adverse consequences of firewood smoke in the country. Besides the serious health hazards, it also contributes to deforestation and desertification. Nigeria is an oil-producing country and a leading member of OPEC, therefore, making kerosene available in all the nooks and crannies of the country at affordable price should be a difficult task to accomplish.
Perhaps, if the four refineries in the country are functioning at optimum capacity, it would be easier to do, but the oil import dependency is a bulwark against eliminating firewood smoke swiftly. It is evidently clear that firewood smoke is very dangerous but much has not been said about it. It is time to drastically reduce the use of firewood to the barest minimum for the sake of the health of the citizenry and the protection of the environment.
Source: New Telegraph