Dear Editor,

Indoor air pollution versus COVID-19. Rules for cooking using wood:

1. Fuel wood must be dry.

2. Smaller pieces of fuel wood will burn better than larger pieces.

3. A contained fire will burn hotter and more efficiently than an open fire.

4. The material surrounding (containing) the fire should have refractive properties to reduce heat loss.

5. Preheated inlet air can use some otherwise wasted heat and improve efficiency.

6. A grate that allows primary air into the bottom of the fire will make burning easy and allow the coals too, to burn.

7. The flame requires time to complete the burning of the wood gas so a chimney between the fire and the saucepan helps to increase time for the flame to more completely consume wood gases thereby increasing efficiency.

8. The location of the stove in the kitchen should be free from wind.

9. The upper part of the kitchen should have plenty of ventilation to allow smoke to escape quickly.

10. A raised stove allows smoke to rise above the face of the cook better than a ground level cooking fire.

11. An attended stove will work more efficiently than a stove left to cook by itself.

12. Turbulence of air mixes air and wood gases to allow better combustion in a shorter time. This can be assisted by a fan and enables the saucepan to be placed closer to the fire.

13. Dry kindling wood handy in the kitchen allows every fire light to progress quickly from lighting to smoke free cooking operation.

14. Purpose planted and managed fuel wood plantations of selected fire wood species proximate to village and urban population centers allows economic pricing and a viable margin of profit for fire wood suppliers.

The importance of promoting these 14 “rules” in Vanuatu cannot be overstated. There are 30,491 kitchens in Vanuatu where, each year, 79000 tonnes of fire wood is the main cooking fuel. Annually 187 people (not predominant the elderly but women and very young children) die needlessly and prematurely from stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and pneumonia resulting from the indoor air pollution of poorly burning cooking fires.

Worldwide 3.8 million people die from indoor air pollution (IAP), the same number of people who die from high blood sugar and the resulting sugar diabetes. These are annual figures that repeat each year, not a one-time occurrence pandemic like COVID-19 which is mostly fatal only among the elderly, but which has elicited a global response never before seen.

Can we not elicit a similar response to the IAP crisis and save many more lives, not just this year but in all future years too?

Gilbert Gibson

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