HONOLULU, Hawaii (East-West Wire, Jan. 01) -- Indoor air pollution from cooking and home-heating with polluting fuels such as wood and animal dung kills 1.6 million people a year and causes 3 percent of total diseases around the world.

This form of air pollution was recently ranked by the World Health Organization as the fourth biggest health risk in least-developed nations, after malnutrition, unsafe sex and unclean water and sanitation.

Yet outdoor air pollution, which kills far fewer people and is ranked much lower as a health risk, receives virtually all the attention and funding.

"It occurs mostly in poor rural homes in developing countries and it’s nobody’s priority," said Vinod Mishra, a population and health researcher at the East-West Center in Hawaii. "Women and young children are exposed to pollution levels many times greater than the levels recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and WHO on a daily basis."

Mishra, who recently published "Indoor Air Pollution: The Quiet Killer, called the WHO's recent ranking of indoor air pollution a "landmark" in drawing major attention to the problem. He said the problem is made more obscure by the fact that the biomass fuels used for cooking such as dung, wood and crop residues are collected from the land by the poor and "do not show up in any accounting ledgers."

Women, he said, are double-burdened by the pollution; not only do they perform all the cooking, their body chemistry makes them more prone to harm from such pollution than men. Exposure contributes to tuberculosis, serious respiratory illness, lung cancer, blindness and reduced birth weight of babies.

Research by Mishra and his colleagues at the East-West Center four years ago was the first to identify the relationship between cooking smoke and TB.

"It has some of the same pollutants as tobacco smoke and smoke from motor vehicles and industries, and it causes similar health damage," Mishra said.

Mishra said governments should do more to promote clean fuel use, educate people of the risks of exposure to cooking smoke, and provide and promote more efficient and better-ventilated stoves.

January 1, 2003

East-West Wire: www.eastwestcenter.org/events-en.asp 

Vinod Mishra can be contacted at 808-944-7452 or mishrav@EastWestCenter.org  Robert D. Retherford, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, can be reached at 808-944-7403 or retherfr@EastWestCenter.org  Kirk R. Smith, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, can be reached at the University of California, Berkeley, at 510-643-0793 or krksmith@uclink4.berkeley.edu 

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