By Nicholas Ibekwe/VOA
LAGOS — Aid agencies are teaming up with Nigeria's government to convert 20 million stoves from unwholesome fuel and firewood to clean cooking gas.
About 112 million Nigerians rely solely on firewood for cooking, producing fumes and smoke that put them at high risk of asthma, bronchitis, child pneumonia, and lung cancer.
The World Health Organization says more than 95,000 Nigerians die annually due to complications caused by the inhalation of smoke from biofuels. This makes it the third-highest killer after malaria and HIV/AIDS.
Widespread use of unwholesome fuels also has serious environmental implications through mass deforestation to supply wood for cooking.
International Center for Energy Environment and Development Director Ewah Eleri says contrary to what many in Nigeria think, cooking with firewood is actually very costly.
"Smoke from the kitchen or the use of inefficient cooking methods, especially firewood, is not only a source of ill health, but is costing families far much more than they can afford," said Eleri. "Poor families spend more buying firewood than the rich spend buying electricity or cooking gas. So these are the issues that need to be addressed. Nigeria is already losing a lot of its forest. Three percent of the natural forest are lost every year due to deforestation.”
Another major source of domestic fuel in urban areas is kerosene. Nigerians use more than 11 million liters of kerosene daily says the Nigerian Independent Petroleum Company. This is exerting huge economic pressure on the government. Because of the disrepair of the country’s refineries, the government spends more $5 billion annually for the importation and subsidy of kerosene.
CEO Jerome Okolo, of the non-governmental organization Access to Clean Cooking Energy Systems and Solutions Africa, says kerosene is as harmful as firewood and other forms of biofuels.
"Kerosene is a particularly nasty source of energy for the domestic environment," said Okolo. "Kerosene is actually aviation fuel and the only way we get it to burn is by soaking a rag in it. So that is what a kerosene stove is, a mechanism that allows you to soak a rag into kerosene and burn those rags. That is why when you come into a place where kerosene is being used, the kitchen is always black, because you have a lot of soot, a lot of unburned fuel and that is what is actually poisoning our people.”
Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest producer of Liquefied Petroleum Gas, but has the lowest utilization of LPG in sub-Saharan Africa. With a potential to produce 1.5 million metric tons of LPG for domestic use yearly, the national utilization is merely 150,000 tons.
ACCESS Africa, in partnership with the government, international organizations such as USAID, micro-finance groups, gas companies and Nigeria’s largest-petroleum-distributor Oando, aim to change that.
Their “Switch to LPG Initiative” will see more than 20 million gas cylinders provided to Nigerian homes within the next five years. The three-kilogram cylinders, integrated with burners, cost as little as $12 each and will require just $5 for a monthly refill. Okolo says this is significantly less expensive than kerosene and other biofuels. The average household spends about $27 on firewood or $23 on kerosene monthly.