In Laos, 5,716 people die each year from diseases caused by the smoke from burning wood for cooking; globally this figure is 3.8 million. When using traditional cookstoves, a similar amount of smoke is produced to lighting 400 cigarettes! And all this burning takes place in kitchens, two to three times every day, mainly in front of women and children, who as a result, risk dangerous heart and lung diseases.
A recent piece of research in rural villages in Savannakhet province showed that the air quality levels are indeed very poor, largely due to smoke from cooking. With an average concentration of 439 μg/m3 of fine particles, this is comparable to alarming peak levels of smog in cities like Beijing. In contrast, the guideline values by the World Health Organisation are set on 10 μg/m3.
However, not all wood stoves are this harmful, and therefore several initiatives are starting up in Laos to introduce advanced clean cookstoves that are safe to use and also fuel and time efficient. By just the looks of the stoves, however, it is not apparent which stove is safe, therefore these need to be verified by following proper testing protocols and by the use of precise air monitoring equipment.
SNV, Association for Rural Mobilisation and Improvement (ARMI), and the Renewable Energy Institute (REMI) have worked together since 2011 on the establishment of stove testing laboratories, and ever since hundreds of stoves have been assessed (and improved). Based on this fruitful collaboration the new Laboratory Emission Monitoring System (LEMS) was inaugurated in October 2015. This high-tech equipment, financed by SNV, allows for standards, regulation of the market, and the ability to provide information to the people on the levels of smoke emission. The system also enables Lao authorities to test stoves according to the international (ISO) standards.
“Still, substantial work needs to be done in the field of testing and research and development, to determine stove efficiency and emissions and improve existing stoves.”, says Bastiaan Teune of SNV. Invaluable data and results are provided by REMI to the EU-funded Improved Cookstoves (ICS) programme, and other clean stoves initiatives supported by World Bank, EnDev and the Green Climate Fund.