Nigeria Grapple with Health and Environmental Impact of Traditional Cooking
150million Nigerians Risk Lung Cancer – NBC
By Obiabin Onukwugha, Daniel Adaji and Faridat Salifu
Recent findings from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have revealed a significant concern about the health risks associated with cooking using firewood.
According to the NBS, approximately 68.3% of the Nigerian population relies on solid cooking materials such as firewood and charcoal. Recent data released by Worldometer, elaborating on the latest United Nations figures, places Nigeria’s current population at 223 million.
The data paints a stark picture, indicating that over 150 million Nigerians and the majority of households face a heightened risk of lung cancer and other related health issues due to cooking with solid fuels like firewood and charcoal.
The Persistent Challenge of Access to Clean Cooking Energy
Dr. Jane Akinyemi, a prominent environmental health expert, pointed out that the smoke generated when burning firewood contains hazardous pollutants. These pollutants, she noted, are known to cause respiratory illnesses, particularly among women and children who bear the brunt of exposure.
In a recent press conference, the Minister for Environment, Ishaiq Adekunle Salako, shared his personal experience and medical insight. He stated that individuals who rely on firewood daily may not be fundamentally different from those who smoke copious amounts of cigarettes.
Salako emphasized that the smoke produced by burning firewood carries harmful pollutants that can lead to a range of respiratory issues, including chronic bronchitis and pneumonia. The consequences of inhaling this smoke extend beyond health concerns; they impose a substantial financial burden on individuals and the healthcare system.
Most alarmingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that the smoke emitted from kitchen fires is responsible for a staggering 93,300 deaths annually in Nigeria. This statistic ranks it as a leading cause of mortality, second only to diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS.
Heightened Risk of Lung Cancer
Particularly concerning is the health risk associated with using biomass, as revealed by recent research, which includes an elevated risk of lung cancer linked to long-term exposure to firewood smoke. This study adds another layer to the already substantial list of disadvantages associated with traditional cooking practices.
Environmental Impact and Economic Costs
Beyond the health consequences, traditional cooking methods also heavily contribute to deforestation. Vast quantities of firewood are harvested to meet the demand, leading to the loss of forest cover, habitat destruction, and adverse effects on local ecosystems.
This is largely owing to the fact that rural communities don’t have access to modern and electric cooking appliances, such as gas stoves.
Furthermore, many rural communities have an abundance of firewood from natural forests and vegetation. For instance, the Odual tribe in Rivers State and many other local communities in Nigeria traditionally rely on firewood for household and other cooking activities, such as marriages and burial ceremonies. In Odual, firewood is also used in processing garri, as modern garri processing machines are not available. Additionally, firewood is used for preservation, such as drying meat, fish, shrimps, etc.
There is also a belief that cooking with firewood, especially for occasions, is faster than using gas and stoves. The food is also believed to taste better if well monitored to avoid burning.
Naturenews investigations reveal that some suburban families have also turned to using firewood as an alternative due to the rising cost of kerosene and cooking gas.
Inne, a mother of five who resides in the Borokiri area of Port Harcourt, told a Naturenews correspondent that she decided to turn to firewood because of harsh economic realities. She said, “I decided to turn to firewood because I can no longer afford kerosene or gas. I have an electric plate, but as you know, power supply is epileptic, so I mostly use firewood to cook when there is no electricity.” Inne, who hails from the riverine Ijaw tribe, said that growing up as a child, her parents used firewood, which is why it is easy for her to turn to firewood as an alternative to gas and kerosene. She also reasoned that firewood has no associated risks, such as explosions as in the case of gas and adulterated kerosene.
Inne is not the only one who reasons in this direction.
Kacham, an indigene of Buju in Kaduna State but residing in the Dawaki area of Abuja, shared her perspective with a Naturenews correspondent. She expressed concern about the soaring cost of gas, which stands at a thousand naira per kilogram. She said the price poses a significant challenge, especially when she needs to prepare meals in large quantities, including dishes like beans and locust beans, to feed herself and her family. In her assessment, spending a thousand naira on firewood offers a more cost-effective and quicker cooking alternative.
Also, Usman, a poultry vendor, told a Naturenews correspondent that using firewood to heat water for the processing of his chicken is more cost-effective. According to Usman, he charges N200 for killing and cleaning a chicken for customers. He stated that his brothers supply him with firewood from the farm, thereby increasing his profit margin. This arrangement seems equitable to him, especially when considering the comparatively higher cost of cooking gas or kerosene.
Regrettably, rural communities lack the knowledge that reliance on firewood not only exposes individuals to substantial health risks but also contributes to environmental degradation and lower life expectancy.
Furthermore, the act of burning firewood releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change. These environmental repercussions, in turn, have the potential to intensify extreme weather events and exert long-term effects on our environment.
“Households that rely on firewood for cooking often allocate a significant portion of their income to fuel procurement. This financial strain perpetuates poverty, undermining economic stability,” the research said.
The Path to a Healthier and Greener Future
In light of these compelling findings, a transition to cleaner and more efficient cooking technologies becomes an imperative step forward. Clean-burning stoves and alternative fuels present a viable solution, one that not only enhances public health but also mitigates environmental degradation, promotes gender equality, and contributes to the fight against climate change.
The journey toward adopting cleaner cooking practices has already commenced in some communities across Nigeria. Through collective effort and a commitment to embracing change, these communities are striving to safeguard their health, protect the environment, and lay the foundation for a brighter future for generations to come.