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In rural India, rising cooking gas prices are reversing in the fight against deadly kitchen smoke

After cooking for decades on geothermal stoves, women in Sarmathla village in the northern Indian state of Haryana were excited when they received cooking stoves and connections about five years ago.

The liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) gas cylinders meant that they did not have to collect firewood and breathe in the smoky vapors emitted by stoves called “chullahs”.

They are among the millions of poor households in rural areas who receive subsidized gas connections and capsules according to the government’s plan launched in 2016 to help women move away from using highly polluting food sources such as timber and animal manure to cleaner fuels.

But in most homes in Sarmathla, the cylinders are now left unused in a corner of the kitchen, where many return to light their stoves with firewood.

“I am a poor man and everything has become so expensive. As a daily bet, we earn barely four dollars a day, “said Santosh Devi, a resident of the village. “Tell me, should I buy food for children or buy a gas cylinder?

The cooking gas stoves that were supposed to help poor households switch to clean energy sources for cooking are unused in many homes in Saramthala. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

The series of price increases over the past year and a half has made cooking gas cylinders unmanageable for many poor households who are already struggling to cope with rising food prices and declining incomes due to the pandemic.

The approximately $ 13 price tag on gas cylinders is almost double that of six years ago when the project was launched. And although the government last month announced a $ 2.50 grant for those with a subsidized gas connection, most of the villagers say they can still not use it as the main source of cooking.

India’s cooking gas prices have risen sharply as global crude oil prices rise – India is heavily dependent on imported natural gas.

Santosh Devi says he can not afford to buy cooking gas canisters as food prices also rise. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

Santosh Devi says he can not afford to buy cooking gas canisters as food prices also rise. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

Rising costs are a challenge for an ambitious plan that aims to address serious health challenges posed by indoor air pollution. As well as building toilets and homes for the poor in rural areas, it was one of the flagship programs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government aimed at significantly improving the lives of poor households in rural areas.

State subsidies had given more than 80 million households in rural areas access to clean energy sources for cooking until last year, according to government figures.

Poonam Devi cooks mostly on a stove that is lit in a wood fire even though it has a cooking connection. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

Poonam Devi cooks mostly on a stove that is lit in a wood fire even though it has a cooking connection. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

But Poonam Devi, a resident of Sarmathla, said he used it sparingly.

“I only cook vegetables on gas, but I do everything else on wood fires,” said Devi as she rolled out Indian bread for a family of seven. “Sometimes I use it when guests come.”

Experts worry that this will slow down efforts to address serious health problems caused by toxic kitchen fumes. Although this village is mostly based on firewood, cow dung and agricultural waste are other traditional sources of cooking in the vast rural areas of India.

“Indoor air pollution from this solid fuel is equivalent to a person smoking a significant number of cigarettes continuously at the same time,” said Abhishek Jain, director of Powering Livelihoods at the New Delhi Energy, Environment and Water Council.

Called one of India’s biggest public health challenges, Jain said: “Extensive estimates suggest that India loses half a million people each year prematurely due to indoor air pollution. That is the scale of the problem we are dealing with. “

The women in this village know the health consequences of wildfires too well.

“I cough and have congestion and difficulty breathing due to cooking. So I try to cook on petrol whenever I can, “said Paramwati, a resident of Sarmathla, whose tiny kitchen shuts off the steam.

Saramthala village in northern India. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

Saramthala village in northern India. (Anjana Pasricha / VOA)

It is not just poor households that have been affected – even better-off families in this village, who do not receive government subsidies, are struggling to cope with the high price of cooking gas.

“I have to think often before I can fill this cylinder. “I can only do that when I manage to save $ 13 or I have to wait until my husband gets his salary,” said Manju Chhoker.

That feeling resonates in many parts of the village. “It is a great challenge to deal with inflation and high gas prices. “When it’s time to refill the gas tank, I’ll be very worried,” said another resident, Satya Prakash Rajput.

According to research, the number of households using clean energy as the main fuel for cooking exponentially increased from about 30 percent to almost 70 percent between 2011 and 2020. These profits are now threatened, experts say, as efficiency is seen as a huge obstacle.

“It has at least stopped the progress, at worst it has reversed the progress,” Jain said. “So, unless prices became more manageable either with government subsidies or a reduction in international prices, households could not switch to liquefied petroleum gas for most of their food.

This means that women in the village of Sarmathla may have to continue to carry firewood and deal with the steam in their kitchens to turn on their stoves.

In rural India, rising cooking gas prices are reversing in the fight against deadly kitchen smoke

Source link In rural India, rising cooking gas prices are reversing in the fight against deadly kitchen smoke

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