Clearing the Air: Ventilation Solutions in the Fight Against Household Air Pollution

Read the paper


Household air pollution from biomass cooking is a critical environmental health issue in the Global South, leading to an estimated 3.8 million premature deaths annually. Despite interventions promoting cleaner stoves and fuels, achieving universal access to clean cooking remains a challenge, especially in regions like rural Senegal, where 96% of the population still relies on solid fuels. This study investigates the role of improved kitchen ventilation as a complementary strategy to reduce household air pollution. Using measurements from roughly 250 households in rural Senegal, the research found a strong association between higher ventilation and lower kitchen pollution concentrations, with improved ventilation significantly lowering kitchen pollution levels, nearly matching the impact of many clean stove interventions.

However, the study also found that average personal exposure was inconsistent with overall kitchen pollution concentrations, suggesting that cooking behavior significantly affects individual exposure. This finding calls for reevaluating the current focus on cleaner stoves and the need for a comprehensive approach that considers fuel types and stove technologies as well as cooking behavior and kitchen ventilation. The researchers ultimately recommend multiple intervention strategies and integrating ventilation improvements with clean stove initiatives.

Methods and Results

The research focused on the relationship between ventilation variables, the kitchen concentration of PM2.5, and personal exposure to these pollutants. To isolate the causal impact of ventilation on outcomes, one would ideally vary ventilation randomly. In the absence of such randomization, the study used state-of-the-art emissions measurements and in-depth household surveys to generate detailed individual-level data that allowed controlling for many potential confounders, acknowledging that further confounders may remain uncontrolled.

The household data was collected in 15 rural Senegalese villages during surveys conducted in the dry season in early 2018 and early 2019. The study sample comprised two regions in northern and central Senegal characterized by typical Sahelian vegetation and scarce fuelwood. Villages in these regions were eligible if they complied with two inclusion criteria. First, their total population was within the range of 600 to 1600, which is typical for rural communities in the region, and second, to ensure low initial penetration of improved biomass cooking technologies, the villages had not previously seen significant energy-efficient biomass cookstoves (EEBC) promotion. The sample for the personal exposure measurements included 16 to 17 households per community, randomly sampled from household lists, among which around half were also selected for the kitchen concentration measurements. Stratified random sampling was used to maintain representativeness in the subsample selected for the kitchen concentration measurement.



Luciane Lenz (RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, KfW Development Bank), Gunther Bensch (RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research), Ryan Chartier (RTI International), Moustapha Kane (Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur les Energies Renouvelables, University Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar), Jorg Ankel-Peters (RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, University of Passau), Marc Jeuland (Sanford School of Public Policy and Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University)

Related Content

Related Links


Human Development, Climate & Sustainability, Health, Pollution, Technology Diffusion, Africa