It is unacceptable that 23,000 Kenyans are dying every year from the side effects of cooking with kerosene, firewood, crop waste and cow dung. These deaths can be easily prevented by enabling access to clean and affordable cooking fuels. Some of the people who still rely on these primitive sources of energy are also left with serious ailments such as heart diseases.
The continued exposure of people to these potentially deadly cooking fires, at a time when the world has long shifted to cleaner energy, is also an abuse of their human dignity. It is, indeed, a shame that many Kenyans are still using firewood and traditional cooking stones deep into the 21st century. Our people are still literally stuck in the Stone Age, yet we purport to live in a developing country with a modern economy. The onus is on the authorities to help them embrace and use cleaner energy alternatives.
The Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) is leading an initiative to prevent harmful chemicals, gases and other pollutants from being ingested through cooking. As Kemri director-general Sam Kariuki has pointed out, cooking with these crude fuels has been found to amount to burning 100 cigarettes an hour, resulting in household air pollution levels that are more than 100 times what the World Health Organization considers safe.
This is happening when there is readily available and cost-effective liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is clean. Relying on firewood for cooking is also detrimental to the environment through deforestation and land degradation, and takes its toll on women who spend too much time fetching firewood.
To protect the environment, the use of LPG should be promoted by enacting legislation and policies that make it affordable. Electricity and gas are, in the long run, cheaper, safer and more convenient to use. This calls for government interventions such as fast-tracking gas imports, waiving taxes and granting production incentives. Another vital alternative is tapping solar technology.
The government should sensitise the public on the need for clean energy and subsidise the installation and cost of solar panels and other equipment. These measures must be rolled out to save lives and prevent illnesses from dirty cooking fuels.