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Firewood use for cooking impedes Nigerian health and climate progress

Although people are familiar with alternative energy resources, for many villagers who do not have access to power, firewood is perceived to be the most accessible source of fuel. Creative Commons: Jeff Attaway, 2012

Although people are familiar with alternative energy resources, for many villagers who do not have access to power, firewood is perceived to be the most accessible source of fuel. Creative Commons: Jeff Attaway, 2012

Over 120 million Nigerians use firewood for cooking, further exacerbating health and environmental impacts on local populations.

According to the International Energy Agency, Nigeria is currently one of the heaviest users of biomass for cooking.

“Some people have kerosene stoves, but they only use them if it rains and the wood is wet. Kerosene is expensive – and you cannot always get it,” said Aina Odere, a 25-year-old woman who makes garri, a popular cassava-based dish, for a living.

Although people are familiar with alternative energy resources, for many villagers who do not have access to power, firewood is perceived to be the most accessible source of fuel due to frequent illegal logging occurring in nearby rainforests.

Despite its popularity, the World Health Organisation reports that the use of firewood has lead to the death of 98,000 women in Nigeria alone. Nigerian women tend to spend more time in smoky kitchens while preparing meals for their families. Globally, indoor smoke remains a leading cause of preventative death and health issues.

“After malaria and HIV/AIDS, smoke is the biggest killer of mostly women and children… This has cost poor families and institutions money that could be put to better use on education, health and nutrition,” states a 2013 WHO report.

Among environmental concerns, the use of firewood is highly scrutinized due to its harmful emissions and its contribution to deforestation. According to regional environmental experts such as Samson Ogalla, Programme Manager at the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, many  feel that some legislative measures are in place, however, there is a lack in execution.

“The continent needs to go beyond mere crafting of environmental laws to full implementation of such laws, with clear monitoring, reporting and verification mechanisms, if it is to address climate change and other environmental challenges,”  said Ogala.

Ultimately, for experts like Charles Ndondo, director of Carbon Green Africa, understanding “why people are cutting down trees,” is detrimental to the transition towards cleaner energy sources in order to sustain long-term climate mitigation strategies.

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