A Health Initiative Up In Smoke

3,000,000,000: The number of people who cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves that burn coal & biomass (wood, animal & crop waste)
>4,000,000: The number of people who die PREMATURELY from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels
>50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by the soot inhaled from household air pollution

These statistics, taken from the February 2016 WHO Household Air Pollution and Health Fact Sheet, are staggering. The dangers in having open fires within the household not only lie within the air, but also create a dangerous environment in other areas, such as burns. Below you will learn about how FIMRC identified, gained an understanding, and reacted to this reality so many families face in Kodaikanal, India.

FIMRC established its project site in Kodaikanal in 2004, and works in communities that are below the poverty line. To these families, home is more often than not a thatched hut with a tin roof. One single room makes up the entire household, the kitchen at one end and sleeping area at the other. FIMRC noticed the hazardous conditions during home visits, and recognized that most children suffered from frequent upper respiratory tract infections accompanied with dusty yellow eyes.  These conditions are direct results of inhaling smoke from cooking and keeping their houses warm through open stoves. To curb this problem, FIMRC worked with the community to identify that if chimneys were installed in the houses, the smoke would be properly funneled out of the house and would help prevent these illnesses. A FIMRC Ambassador, Holly Birdsall, was instrumental in kick-starting the project in 2014 through her project proposal and fundraising through her church. The school teachers also played a vital role in identifying the houses with the highest need so FIMRC could help those families as soon as possible.

Although coming up with the plan was an excellent display of FIMRC staff and volunteers working with the local community, the project still faces challenges. Aside from funding, the materials must be brought in to the community, and can cause greater damage by families needing to alter their roofs to accommodate the chimneys. Despite the challenges, however, more than 20 houses have benefitted from this initiative in several communities within and around Kodaikanal. Parents of these families have found it a very effective solution, believing that 90% of the smoke is now let out through the chimney. This changes their life drastically, affecting their quality of sleep, reducing the rate of infection, and improving attendance at school as children are ill less often. Families’ incomes are also affected; the chimney is also made out of a material that retains heat longer than conventional clay, helping families save firewood.

In the next few months, FIMRC hopes to complete its first phase of the chimney project by installing chimneys at each of the houses from the crèche children. Once phase one is completed, we’d like to install chimneys at houses of non-crèche children within the communities, which has been a constant request from the communities. We will continue to move from community to community with the aim of improving the quality of life for the families. 

Posted on September 29, 2016 and filed under India, Project Kodaikanal, News from the FIMRC Field.