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New report urges media to highlight health crisis killing 500,000 children a year

Press Release   •   Feb 02, 2017 11:21 GMT

Indoor smoke in Nepal kills two times as many people per year than died in the 2015 earthquake

The international media has been urged to highlight a health crisis which is killing more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

Around the world 4.3million people die prematurely every year as a result of cooking over open fires. Half a million of these deaths are children struck down by pneumonia - yet the issue continues to go largely unreported.

The call was made in a new report: “Smoke Free Nepal: Challenges and Opportunities” which found toxic smoke from indoor fires is killing more than double the number of Nepalese people every year than died in the 2015 earthquake.

Current World Health Organisation figures show 22,800 people die in Nepal every year from lung cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia and other diseases linked to inhaling smoke every day. In comparison, the devastating earthquake of 2015 claimed around 9,000 victims.

The report unveiled the latest shocking figure as part of its study into the reasons behind why Nepalese Government have failed to meet its target of making Nepal ‘smoke free’ by 2017.

The report was written by experts in the issue of indoor smoke in Nepal and the global solutions to the problem.

One author, Dr Lucy Stevens said: “The vast majority of deaths are amongst poor women and children and in Nepal and many poverty-stricken communities around the world, a woman’s death from respiratory problems is seen as a way of life.

“The effects of cooking over open fires have been equated to breathing in the secondary smoke from 400 cigarettes an hour. But because the deaths are unspectacular and often marked by a slow decline in health, the issue is not adequately covered by the media and there is not enough pressure on national Governments to tackle the root causes of the problem.

“All of the authors of the report felt that the issue is not adequately reported by the media and I would urge journalists to experience what it feels like to be in a badly ventilated room with an open fire. I guarantee they will not be able to stay in there for long.”

The smoke from traditional cooking fires contains small particles, carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes in concentrations up to 100 times higher than the limits set by the World Health Organisation, and in some settings, considerably higher.

In addition to a call for more media exposure, the report makes a number of recommendations on how Nepal could become smoke free by 2020.

These include:

  • Ensure that clean cooking is properly considered in post-earthquake development, and that efforts are geared towards strengthening, rather than undermining long-lasting solutions.
  • Better measurement of progress on clean cooking to ensure the scale of the problem is properly understood
  • New analysis of the market for clean cookstoves in Nepal so that new interventions can be targeted to address them.
  • Placing the needs of women at the centre of all work to accelerate progress and strengthen women’s empowerment
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