Something as simple as better kitchen ventilation can have a big impact on public health. Peruvian women in rural areas have traditionally done their cooking over open fires using coal or firewood, generating a great deal of smoke, ash and carbon monoxide. Often, food preparation and cooking take place in small areas with poor or no ventilation. These conditions lead to respiratory, skin and eye issues and illnesses.
The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA), which helps facilitate greater use of improved stoves, notes that air pollution levels associated with burning solid fuels are 20 to 100 times greater than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines allow. The WHO estimates that 1.5 million people die prematurely each year from exposure to indoor smoke as a result of burning solid fuels. It ranks indoor air pollution from household energy fourth on the list of serious threats to health in developing countries, after malnutrition, unsafe sex, and unsafe water.
To address this critical health challenge, Barrick has supported the installation of thousands of upgraded cooking stoves in Peru’s Huaraz and La Libertad regions through the country’s Voluntary Contribution program for mining companies. As part of this government program, companies such as Barrick contribute funding for projects to help eradicate poverty, improve education and health and stimulate economic development.
In 2009, Peru’s La Libertad regional government recommended that a study be undertaken to collect more data on the potential health benefits of upgraded stoves in the area. Approximately 90 per cent of rural households in Peru use solid fuels for cooking and heating. Barrick sponsored the research project, led by the University of Georgia’s School of Public Health. The goal was to determine if the installation of the new stoves would lead to a reduction in smoke irritants and carbon monoxide, and reduce ergonomic health issues associated with cooking low to the ground. The researchers installed upgraded, ventilated stoves in 64 households and evaluated the results.
The upgraded stoves are made of concrete, with iron platforms for pots and pans and a tin pipe funneling smoke outside the house. The study found that families who use these stoves have lower rates of respiratory and eye illnesses, improved blood pressure and a reduction in head and back aches. The women also noticed that the new stoves cooked faster and required less wood.
Violeta Muñoz Morales, a resident of Cachulla Baja, participated in the study. “Before, we cooked with wood on open flames but now we use our upgraded stove. It is much better, as there isn’t so much smoke as before. Sometimes, due to firewood smoke, the children had irritated, red eyes and coughed; but now everything is different. All my neighbors took part in this project, and we are thankful.”
To date, 6,500 upgraded stoves have been installed in communities near Barrick’s Pierina and Lagunas Norte mine sites. Plans are underway to expand the program to more households.