What started as mere rhetoric for people of Nsungwi village in Chiradzulu District over 2 years ago, became what they have always wished for, thanks to the SMOKELESS Village project. SMOKELESS is a project that was run by the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHES) in collaboration with Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), University of Nottingham funded by Irish Research Council. The main aims of the project were to assess if a community-led strategy to reduce Household & Ambient Air Pollution (HAAP) will result in reduced levels of HAAP and reduced risk of injuries such as burns. At global level, HAAP is a key contributor to mortality, morbidity, deforestation and climate change.
The project came to an end on 9th December, 2022 with a results dissemination activity which took place in Nsungwi village. Speaking on behalf of KUHeS, Dr. Vincent Jumbe, one of the team leaders for the SMOKELESS Village project said though they were finalizing the pilot phase in Nsungwi, the lessons learnt will benefit Malawians. He said it is hoped that the project will feed into future national and regional policy on air pollution, enabling rural communities to have access to a range of cleaner fuels and practices for cooking, heating and lighting, and also less polluting agricultural methods in the future. He went on to say the findings of this study will be disseminated to Kamuzu University of Health Sciences Research Ethics Committee (KUREC), key policy makers and stakeholders at national and international levels; at local and international research dissemination conferences and in peer reviewed journals. The findings are expected to have relevance to the poorest communities across the world who are dealing with similar issues.
“We cannot talk about conserving the environment and human health without having to talk about climate change. Climate change is an important aspect that this project is also advocating for. For a long time, women in the communities have suffered with smoke when they are cooking in the kitchens most of which have small or no windows. This is a health hazard as it has fatal health implications. That is why as a project, we came in to investigate whether Chitetezo mbaula, solar torches Household and agricultural waste, constructing kitchens with larger windows, composting refuse would lessen the problem of HAAP. We also felt that women stay longer in the kitchen when they are cooking with pots without potlids hence we provided potlids for the households so that they can be covering the pots when cooking hence reducing the time a woman is supposed to stay in the kitchen and exposure to the smoke” elaborated Jumbe.
Eunice Tulo Phillips, a PhD researcher with the SMOKELESS project, who worked hand in hand with the community leadership and members throughout the project said, she was overjoyed and satisfied with how the project had played out in the community.
“The smoke has lessened in the kitchens in the 172 households that were in our study, we provided solar lamps and school children in this village are now able to study despite the dark. Together with the community we have also constructed kitchen windows in every household. We have distributed potlids and 2 Chitetezo mbaula; 2 per households and 3 in households with more than 6 people. So I am glad this project has made a huge difference. Our goal is to have this project influence the use of clean energy in other communities in the country”. Said Tulo Phillips.
Speaking on behalf of the beneficiaries, Rex Zakaliya said the community was thankful to KUHeS and its partners for this project which he said has changed the people of the community forever. We have received Chitetezo mbaula, potlids, solar lamps, kitchens with proper windows to assist in smoke circulation.
“We are so thankful to have been the first community in this country to benefit from the SMOKELESS initiative, this will go a long way in enriching our lives as we have been taught delicate skills that we didn’t know before. We have also benefited in terms of smoke reduction because previously when we were short on batteries, we used to buy candles in turn which emitted toxic smoke hence the solar lamps have helped also reduce that smoke.” Said Zakaliya.
Malawi enacted the National Charcoal Strategy 2017-2027 which is a clear recognition of the need to address HAAP at a policy level. The strategy provides a framework to address the linked problems of increasing deforestation and increasing demand for household cooking fuel.