LPG saves Kussi Amma Serah from gas chamber?
Posted on January 14th, 2011

Dr Hector Perera. UK

Many years ago, I can remember we never had the present day gas cookers in Sri Lanka; instead there were these eminent firewood kitchens and kerosene cookers or stoves. That time, I didn’t see any difference because that was the way of cooking, the kerosene cooker was mainly to boil a kettle for a cup of tea. Things like rubber and coconut leaves, shells, coconut husks, sometimes cinnamon or cashew firewood and coal were commonly used in firewood kitchens. In the past, in rural tea boutiques, coconut charcoal was used to boil water. Even to iron a shirt we used coconut charcoal in a heavy box of iron instead of electricity. In upcountry estate bungalows even now they use logs and coal fires just for heating.

Suffering and cocktail of gases

Whether we burn or chemically we call, oxidised, biomass fuels or fossil fuels, the main by-products are the same, which are heat, carbon dioxide and monoxide. When food is cooked inside the homes with firewood, dung, coal or with other solid fuels, it creates high level of indoor air pollution. Say for example a mixture of different firewood such as rubber, cashew or coconut leaves and shells are burned in cooking rice, curries and frying dry fish in open fires; it gives a cocktail of nasty smelling gases. They say, “No smoke without fire” but it smokes before fire then, fire and smoke come out. If it didn’t catch fire, either shawls in a dash of kerosene from the kerosene lamp or use a long metal pipe to blow several times into the fire.  Immediately you feel the heat on the face; invariably inhaling these gases, while trying to light fire because you are so near the stove. Sometimes you cough several times continuously, tears and nose drooling, sneeze then need to blow out several times to unblock the nose while sweating. How do I know it because I also cooked in open fires? In a way that was an experiment to find out more about cooking in open fire kitchens, not once but continuously for six weeks. I must tell you one thing; it’s not a pleasant experience. You smell like a smoked mackerel, haddock or bacon or dry fish when sweat mixed with, dust and ash on hair, face and on clothes, black soot on hands and on clothes, too much to describe. I am wondering how some people undergo this suffering every single day, many hours in the open fire kitchens?

Don’t want to know

Most of the times, some households have servants or dedicated, “Kussi Ammas” so the master or the lady, [nona] in the house, “don’t want to know” as long as the dinner is on the table. They are too busy, fully occupied with their things, cannot miss the popular teledrama continuation or the song contest, who suffers, only, “kussi amma” to put the dinner on the table.

Even today some people still use the traditional firewood kitchens even though LPG [liquid petroleum gas] cookers are widely available even in remote villages. Some people hardly use these due to economic reasons.

Health risks

The problems with open fires are mainly, long term risky health problems such as pneumonia then chronic respiratory diseases due to inhale of carbon monoxide and dioxide, smell of other gases, dust and soot particles. If there were children in the house, they are also affected due to inhale of polluted air. When there is a chimney it gushes out the hot air through the vent but still, the air inside the house or the kitchen is polluted to unacceptable extent. Hot air is lighter, less dense so always try to escape but if there was poor ventilation then the problem worsens.

What is the solution?

Part of the solution is to provide better, improved stoves to burn LPG, biogas or other cleaner fuels that improves healthier environment with reduced indoor air pollution. There are improved open fire stoves for sale in Sri Lanka but due to inadequate supply or lack of publicity the problem persists.

The long term benefits to low income families for using improved stoves are improved health condition reducing long term health problems to women and children. With the use of improved stoves, there are other benefits, such as cutting down the time spent in kitchen, cutting down the time spent in collecting firewood, healthy life style to women and children, additional time availability to do some other work such as gardening or do some income generating work.

Economic growth

If LPG gas fires can be supplied to the people who use open fires with biomass or firewood stoves, in the long run it would be beneficial to the families and the government because it would generate economic growth otherwise more money is needed to health care system to look after the sick people. The banks and the government or other aid agencies should give these new LPG gas systems for free or on long term small credit system so they can afford to pay.

Energy infrastructure

If the low income families have the access to electricity then it saves deforestation and curb green house gas emission, improves health, helps the children with education.

Energy saving demonstration

I have demonstrated in TV how to save about 60% of gas that is wasted in cooking but how I can emphasis that these programmes are seen by many families. It is worthwhile the Energy saving Authority to inquire into this technique by emailing [email protected]. Even after the energy saving authority witnessed this scientific technique, the matter didn’t go further.

A well planned energy projects are needed to break this vicious cycle of energy poverty within the rural communities and urban slums. I am prepared to demonstrate this energy saving technique again.

Bye bye Nona

What about “Kussi amma Serah”, she would say; I have nothing to do, LPG is here, no firewood kitchens, chillies and all other ground spices are in packets, rice has no sand, just wash and cook, white or brown rice flour to anything are in round the corner supermarkets, no more small markets, if you are in hurry, plenty of takeaways so she is not wanted that is why she says, ” Bye bye Nona, Mata Dubai Yanna Onea”.[Bye bye I need to go Dubai]

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