Clean cooking: Africa falls behind

Long regarded as an urgent issue, access to cleaner cooking techniques for the poorest Africans has become even more of a concern as a result of Covid-19. Ian Lewis reports


Long regarded as an urgent issue, access to cleaner cooking techniques for the poorest Africans has become even more of a concern as a result of Covid-19. Ian Lewis reports

Exposure to air pollution caused by burning raw coal, kerosene or traditional biomass for cooking damages health, especially among the women and children most exposed to it.

The Covid-19 pandemic has just raised risk levels again, as the virus has a greater impact on those with respiratory illnesses prevalent among those using those cooking methods.

The pressing need to tackle this health risk  – and the harmful climate change impact from cooking emissions – have long been voiced. But data showing progress makes grim reading.

In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, a stagnant access rate combined with rapid population growth have led to a rise in the number of people without access to clean cooking from some 750m in 2010 to 890m in 2018, according to Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, published in May 2020 by a group of organisations including the IEA, the WHO and the World Bank Group.

More people without access to clean fuels and technologies now reside in Sub-Saharan Africa than in Eastern Asia and Southeastern Asia. Globally, the figure is almost 3bn people.

“If observed trends in access and population continue, it can be estimated that in 2030 Sub-Saharan Africa will have the greatest access deficit, at around 44% of the region’s total population. This represents a substantial geographic redistribution of the global access deficit and associated health, economic, and societal burdens. Future policies should take these trends into account, the report said.

In six of the 20 “access-deficit” countries identified by the agency, 5% or less of the population had access to clean fuels, and all are in Africa – Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Valuable initiatives

There are many initiatives doing valuable work in this field.

The Clean Cooking Alliance, for example, brings together public and private sectors to support research, clean cooking standards, and enterprise capacity building. The alliance has called for clean cooking to be incorporated into pandemic emergency response plans to ensure that progress is not reversed. It cites India’s plan to give away millions of cooking gas cylinders to those in need as an example of positive actions.

SEforALL, the UN-Backed initiative to drive faster action meet energy access goals, calls for a more joined up approach to tackle the clean cooking crisis. It said in response to the Tracking SDG 7 report that a lack of political urgency and sustained investment, the absence of market-enabling conditions, and poor institutional frameworks had hindered wider uptake of clean cooking.

“We must commit to implementing all necessary actions, including, but not limited to, mobilising finance, supporting innovative business models, undertaking market development activities to scale and replicating best practices,” SEforALL said.

The organisation called for these measures to be supported by national clean cooking targets and enabling laws, policies and regulations to send strong market signals and a stable investment environment.

Targeted public education campaigns were needed to emphasise the health, safety and climate benefits of transitioning from traditional cooking techniques to cleaner and healthier alternatives, it added.

The hope is that, at a time when governments have developed the ability to mobilise resources to tackle Covid-19, they may now apply those skills to improving access to clean cooking – a more harmful crisis for Africa’s long-term future than the pandemic. 

More about clean cooking

Energy access and clean cooking solutions must be part of COVID-19 economic recovery plans

VIDEO: What’s cooking in Kenya?

Click to see more articles from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2020

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