Expert Speak Energy News Monitor
Published on Jul 12, 2019
Complete transition towards clean cooking fuels has a long journey to cover.
Indoor air pollution — A challenge for India

Air pollution is the cause of 7 million premature deaths worldwide. Out of this 7 million, 2.6 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution (IAP).

In a developing world, IAP <1> is caused primarily by the inefficient burning of solid fuels (such as firewood, dung cakes, agricultural residues and coal) in the households for cooking or heating. Thus, IAP is more prominent in rural areas of the developing world and mostly affects the cooks, who in general are women and accompanying children. Impact of IAP is more in case of poorly ventilated kitchens and houses. As per the energy ladder theory, the poor households tend to depend on solid fuels much more than the affluent households. The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its Energy and Air Pollution report (2017) suggests providing clean cooking facilities to an additional 1.8 billion people by 2040 to reduce household emissions in developing countries.

As per the Global Burden of Disease Programme, the number of deaths attributed to illness as a result of IAP due to burning of solid fuels was highest in India in the year 2017, about 481,738 followed by China. The corresponding figure in China reduced in the year 2017 to 271,089 compared to 790,216 in 1990. The rate of reduction in deaths attributed to IAP is much slower in India compared to China (please refer the graph below). The scenario in itself indicates that India needs to intensify its efforts towards reducing IAP.

FIGURE 1: Annual number of premature deaths attributed to illness as a result of household air pollution from the use of solid fuels for cooking and heating

Source: Our World in Data

From the above graph it is evident that IAP impacts are more prominent among low Socio Demographic Index (SDI <2>) countries. Within a country, the IAP is more likely to impact poor & rural households compared to affluent and urban households. Within a household, IAP affects women and children more than men. Complexities of IAP call for a multipronged and broader approach and the focus to reach the most vulnerable.

The present government in India in its previous term made initiatives to introduce clean cooking fuel in the form of Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna where subsidised Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) connections were provided to women of the poor households. However, most of the cooking initiatives in India since 1980s resulted in partial or negligible use of LPG and solid fuels remain the primary fuel for cooking. Such a scenario barely influences the IAP levels. Re-election of the same government enhances the scope of strengthening the clean cooking drives with accumulated learning from the past. The incorporation of IAP concept with clean cooking initiatives would demand almost complete transition to clean cooking fuel. The present article makes a few suggestions to strengthen the IAP reduction within and beyond the framework of clean cooking programmes.

The incorporation of the IAP concept with clean cooking initiatives would demand an almost complete transition to clean cooking fuel.

The clean cooking initiatives so far in India tried to provide access to LPG, improved cooking stoves and biogas plants to the rural households, especially the poor, in the form of subsidies in the fuel or installing the cooking technology either free of cost or at subsidised rates. However, if the aim is to reduce IAP, then intensive efforts are required to assure the use of clean cooking fuel and the technologies by households. In such cases, innovative ways of incentivising the usage of clean fuels for cooking may be introduced to motivate the users. For example, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) along with its partner institutions (Qualcomm Incorporated, Nexleaf Analytics, Project Surya and the UK Department for International Development) introduced the concept of providing monetary benefits based on the usage (based on the thermal sensor data) duration of forced draft improved stoves by creating a dummy carbon fund.

A study based on longitudinal data (2008 to 2012) in China revealed significant transition from traditional to modern cooking fuels (Hou, et al., 2017). The research concluded education background and female labour participation as being among the influencing factors in determining household’s fuel choices. Thus, efforts towards reducing IAP have to expand beyond mere provisions of clean cooking fuels. Repeated awareness creation on the benefits of clean cooking is to be embedded in the clean cooking programmes. In the long run, enhancing the literacy rates and female work force participation has to be linked with the clean cooking programmes for assured and continued usage of clean cooking fuels not only among the rural poor but also among the rural affluent households.

FIGURE 2: Direct and indirect ways of reducing indoor air pollution

In the short run, improving the ventilation in rural kitchens may be an option as complete transition towards clean cooking fuels has a long journey to cover. Along with clean cooking programmes, complete transition to clean fuels will also depend on the economic status of the households, SDI level of the country, and level of awareness on clean cooking fuels. Clean cooking programmes are only one among the few steps towards elimination of IAP caused by solid cooking fuels.


Hou, B.-D., Tang, X., Ma, C., Liu, L., Wei, Y.-M., & Liao, H; 2017, January 20. Cooking fuel choice in rural China: results from microdata. 142, 538-547.

International Energy Agency, 2017. WEO-2016 Special Report: Energy and Air Pollution.

Our World in Data, as on July 2019.

The Economic Times, as on May 2013.

United Nations, as on July 2019.


<1> IAP consists of mixtures of particulate matter (e.g., PM10, PM2.5), various gases (e.g., CO, NOx, SOx), and complex organic compounds such as dioxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), formaldehyde, and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs).

<2> SDI is expressed on a scale of 0 to 1 and is a composite average of the rankings of the incomes per capita, average educational attainment, & fertility rates.

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Manjushree Banerjee

Manjushree Banerjee

Manjushree Banerjee was associated with the Social Transformation Division of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) for ten years. In total she possesses about fifteen ...

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