I've been researching Asian cookery for a series of articles I have to write on said subject. I had merrily written practically a whole article on the Indian kitchen and the sort of equipment it would have in it, like handis and tawas, when I came across these disturbing details.
In 2001 an Indian census estimated that 40% of rural homes don’t have a separate kitchen. As the main fuel used is biomass, such as cow-dung, and there is little ventilation, the resulting smoke with its dangerous gases and chemicals fills the house and is a serious risk to health, especially for women who spend most time in the kitchen. The WHO reports that indoor air pollution is claiming 500,000 lives (mostly women and children) in India every year.
The WHO also says that because indoor air pollution isn't sexy enough, people aren't willing to donate money to combat the problem. And it's not just lack of finance.
"Women are constantly exposed to chulha smoke in India due to several cultural mindsets. The men in villages would complain that the taste of food lacks their favourite burnt flavour if there was no smoke. They also don't want to create ventilation as they think it would compromise with their privacy. Some villagers think smoke would keep mosquitoes and snakes away," Hildebrand said.
Uma Rajarathnam from The Energy and Resources Institute said one person dies every 20 seconds from fuel-induced illness. According to the World Health Report 2002, indoor air pollution is responsible for 2.7% of the global burden of disease.