Under plumes of smoke, women bend over their firewood stoves every day to cook meals for their families. It’s not just bad for the environment – this scene, typical of most rural villages across India, sets up future respiratory problems for the women who inhale the toxic combination of smoe and soot as they cook. However, in Sridhar, a village in Sahibganj district in Jharkhand along the banks of the Ganga, things are changing.
- In rural areas, women often walk many kilometres to fetch firewood in order to cook food. This endangers their safety, while their traditional cook stoves emit smoke and soot, which has repercussions for their respiratory and pulmonary health.
- The Ganga Rejuvenation partnership, between the Government of Jharkhand and the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India, and supported by the UNDP, is aiming to instal low-cost, smokeless and easy to maintain cook stoves with chimneys in villages across Sahibganj (along the Ganga) in Jharkhand with contributions from the community.
- 10,000 families living along the Ganga will receive cook stoves through the partnership as part of a larger initiative to to promote the use of clean fuel in these villages.
Ruhi Das Mandal, a Sridhar resident and mother of two girls, has always had to put in a great deal of effort into cooking meals for her family on her traditional mud stove. Together with her daughters, Ruhi walks more than 5 kilometres a day, sometimes even twice a day, to collect firewood for cooking from nearby forests. The walk is exhausting and exacts a toll; Ruhi’s daughters are too tired to finish their schoolwork afterwards. For Ruhi, too, there is no respite. After the long walk for firewood, she lights her stove and breathes in the toxic gases that harm her lungs as she cooks.
The Ganga Rejuvenation partnership, between the Government of Jharkhand, the National Mission on Clean Ganga, and the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India, and supported by the United Nations Development Programme, is implementing a series of measures to ensure that women like Ruhi and her daughters don’t have to sacrifice their health to feed their families.
The initiative aims to instal low-cost, smokeless and easy to maintain cook stoves with chimneys in villages across Sahibganj with contributions from the community. Ruhi says she learned about the cook stoves during a village meeting. “I jumped at the chance for a smokeless cook stove after I learned they would be designed and installed for only those women who attended trainings and contributed labour,” she says.
Working with the training team, Ruhi decided to instal a chimney that prevents smoke from accumulating inside the house. Now, she uses the same stock of wood for more than two days; earlier, it would be used up the same day. “My new smokeless cook stove doesn’t emit any smoke inside the house, and it uses up less wood. I actually enjoy cooking my meals now,” says Ruhi.
Ruhi’s will be just one of the 10,000 families living along the Ganga that will receive cook stoves through the partnership. Besides the health benefits for women like Ruhi, replacing firewood stoves with smokeless cook stoves will help reduce wood consumption by 18,000 metric tonnes, with a corresponding decline in CO2 emissions and reduced dependence on nearby forests.
Installing smokeless cook stoves is part of a larger vision to promote the use of clean fuel. The partnership aims to engage local communities in constructing biogas units, compost pits, kitchen gardens, and fruit and agricultural plantations in villages along the Ganga.