With a forest cover of almost 30%, one national park and about eleven wildlife sanctuaries, one would assume that Jharkhand is a verdant paradise – however with mining and industrialisation, today the AQI of most towns or cities in Jharkhand stand above a 100! While the increasing incidences of runny noses, allergies and respiratory system infections have been attributed to construction dust, stone crushers and coal mines, another source of air pollution, hitherto ignored has come to light.
HAP or household air pollution that comes from biomass fueled cooking stoves affects more than 3 billion people in developing nations. Typically used in small rural households that lack proper ventilation, constant exposure to this smoke means inhaling combustion products like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide among others and many organic air pollutants as well. According to the WHO, HAP is responsible for 500,000 deaths a year in India, most of whom are women and children and accounts for about 80% of the 600,000 premature deaths in SE Asia.
It is to address these issues of community health that a group of women called the Warrior Moms are now creating awareness about the dangers of prolonged chulha use on their children. This unique network of mothers from all over India work in an informal network to raise awareness on air pollution issues. In Jharkhand, they are represented by ASHA workers, SHGs and Panchayat members who have now enlisted over 2000 women to spread the word within their community. Currently, the areas of work are in Lohardaga, Dhanbad and Bokaro.
It is our duty to convey this message to the people – to breathe clean air is our human right. It is our duty to save water, forest, and land, to plant trees and avoid plastic – thus avoiding serious illnesses.Poonam Mahto, Warrior Mom, Jharkhand
It’s easy to ask the question – why don’t they just switch to LPG cylinders?
The poor are compelled to work hard for little wages and use woodfires to cook at home. We cannot afford the gas cylinder on our meagre income. Therefore, it seems to be our lot to suffocate in this smoke – and to deal with respiratory diseases like asthma.Manorama Ekka, Warrior Moms, Lohardaga
In 2016, the PMUY (Pradhan Mantri Ujwala Yojana) was launched. Meant to distribute LPG cylinders to the underprivileged, more than 58 million LPG connections were given by 2018. However, the rising prices and the inability to buy refills forced women to return to the wood stove. Still, despite these challenges the Warrior Moms of Jharkhand continue to help families access the PMUY.
Women had never used LPG gas. When they received gas for the first time from Ujjwala Yojana, it was a great experience, and they were happy about it as they no longer had to touch the coal and ashes. But suddenly when the cylinder got over, they went to refill it and found it too expensive. Their husbands say that they could buy 1 month grocery at Rs.1000/- so they did not refill the cylinders. For Rs.1000/- they would get only minimal subsidy of Rs.130/- due to which they are not using LPG after 1st use.Sushma Devi, Hathudih Panchayat
Dhanbad and Bokaro are two areas where the air quality is at a dangerous level. According to Urban Emissions, the average PM2.5 concentration was 74.5 ± 24.4 μg/m3 – the national standard is 40 and the WHO standard is 10.
The area we live in is highly polluted with coal dust due to open cast mines. Though asthma is less prevalent in our panchayat it is found that TB cases are higher than Asthma. Other major problems caused due to pollution is cough among children for long time and doesn’t go away soon.Deepmala Devi, Jarangdih South
In Jharkhand, women from the local Panchayats are creating awareness and generating discussion on air pollution. The emphasis is on identifying pollution hot spots and drawing links between exposure to them and deteriorating community health.
WM in Bokaro and Dhanbad are working with the SHG women, women ward members, Jal Sahiya, ANM, ASHA, Anganwadi workers, teachers, Mukhiya, women working with other agencies like Tejaswini and Jharkhand Gramin Vikas Trust and housewife by creating awareness through regular visits and discussion on air pollution and its impact on health of women, children and the community as a whole. We discuss measures to bring down the level of pollution in the area by taking small steps like encouraging plantation, use of biogas, LPG gas, community pits for dumping organic wastes etc.”Ashima Baxla
The Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board is making plans under the Clean Air Action Plan to improve the air quality in 8 cities, including Dhanbad. It is not clear whether HAP resulting from chulhas is being taken into consideration at all. It is clear that heavily subsidised LPGs along with a robust distribution system is needed. The exploration of cleaner energy alternatives like solar cookers, induction stoves and smokeless chulhas could also be done; while simultaneously engaging the women community workers on the ground to create more awareness that will eventually lead to a behavioral shift.
There are other factors to consider as well. Studies show that women spend up to 20 or more hours per week to collect firewood and an average of 4 hours a day cooking on chulhas. The time saved could be used in adult women education, monitoring children, starting a small enterprise or being engaged in paid work.
There is literally no time to lose. Constant exposure to air pollution, whether within the home or outside has been proved to reduce one’s lifespan by as much as 10 years and to stunt the physical and mental growth of children. If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the women and children are the heartbeat, and their health and future must be made secure