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Clean Indoor Air

Indoor cooking by indigenous people in Rio Sucio, Colombia, 14 June 2006
Pie chart: 49% of world population affected (3 billions) Bar chart: 1.5 million deaths per year Positive trend

Causes of indoor air pollution are cooking places with open fire, respectively the lack of access to modern energy.

Affected people and foundations of life: About 2.4 billion people live in households in which women cook indoor using wood, dung, and other biomass. Another 0.6 billion use coal. (ITDG [Intermediate Technology Development Group] 2003; WHO [World Health Organization] 2002, 69, 226.) Findings from selected studies in affected homes are several times higher than the health related guideline values for airborne particulate matter (PM). They range from 60 g/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) to 4 800 g/m3 of particles with less than 10 micrometres diameter (PM10) and 8 200 g/m3 of particles with less than 2.5 m diameter (PM2.5; WHO 2006a, 196).

Deaths: 1.50 million people in 2002 – primarily women and children (WHO 2007 and 2002, 226).

Loss of healthy life-years: 38.5 million healthy life-years in 2000 (DALYs [Disability-adjusted life years]; WHO 2002, 228).

Targets/goals: Although there is still no agreed international target, there is a suggested target to reduce the number of people without effective access to modern cooking fuels by 50% until 2015 and make improved cook-stoves widely available (UNMP [United Nations Millennium Project] 2005, 30). From a global perspective, the potentially large health benefits from tackling indoor air pollution should be a policy priority (OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] 2008, 179).

The WHO air quality guideline for particulate air pollutants can also be applied to the indoor environment (WHO 2006, 10):

  • PM2.5 (particulate matter with less than 2.5 micrometres diameter)
    10 g/m3 annual mean
    25 g/m3 24-hour mean
  • PM10 (particulate matter with less than 10 m diameter)
    20 g/m3 annual mean
    50 g/m3 24-hour mean.

There is no official threshold for respirable particles below which no damage to health is observed. Therefore, the aim is to achieve the lowest concentrations possible. (WHO 2006, 9.)

Trend: + Number of death cases has decreased between 2000 and 2002 from 1.62 to 1.50 million people (WHO 2007 and 2002, 226).

Measures: The most important interventions are better ventilation, more efficiently vented stoves, and cleaner fuels (WHO 2002, 70). Appropriate stoves for nearly half of the world population would cost about US$ (United States dollar) 30 billion (ITDG 2003). 112 governmental and non-governmental actors have joined together in the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (


For numeric names the short scale is used:
1 billion = one thousand million = 109 = 1 000 000 000

DALYs: Disability-adjusted life years.
One DALY represents the loss of one year of equivalent full health. DALYs are the sum of the years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLL) in the population and the years lost due to disability (YLD) for incident cases of the health condition. (WHO 2004, 95f.)


Draft (2008)

This draft is to be reviewed by experts. Your hints are welcome, please use the contact form.

Photo credit: © UN Photo/Mark Garten