Indoor air pollution

WHO Household energy database

Information held and sources

photo of woman cooking
Copyright: Nigel Bruce

The WHO Household energy database compiles information on cooking practices that is used as proxy for exposure to household air pollution. This allows further assessment of the burden of disease attributable to indoor smoke from solid fuels use. Together with the potential from emissions arising from incomplete combustion of these traditional fuels, this information is crucial to inform and assist policy-makers to take better health and climate change-related decisions.

The information in this database reports responses to questions from nationally representative surveys on the primary cooking fuel in each household interviewed. A proportion of the available surveys also included questions on stove type, venting of smoke ('exhaust') and cooking location, and also permit cross-tabulation by educational level of the woman respondent and by wealth quintile of the household.

The main multi-country surveys from which data are incorporated in the database are as listed in the table, together with an indication of which areas of information are available from each. In addition, data are sourced from a wide range of individual country-initiated (national) surveys, all of which provide data on cooking fuel, and various combinations of the other topics listed in the table.

Interpretation of data on household energy

The database is used to calculate national summary figures for solid fuel uses: solid fuels comprise biomass - wood, charcoal, crop wastes, animal dung, and coal. The use of solid fuels in households is a proxy for household air pollution, which is associated with increased mortality and morbidity from acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) among children, as well as from cardiovascular disease (i.e. ischaemic heart disease, stroke), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer among adults.

Reliance on solid fuels and the inefficient, traditional open fires and stoves used by the majority of these households can impact on health, development and environment in many ways, for example through time of women and children devoted to collecting fuel, risks of burns, and environmental impacts. Although the database may give some indication of these problems by association with solid fuel use, it does not currently provide the specific information that would allow quantification of any of these impacts.

Although solid fuels are also used for heating purposes (either separately from cooking arrangements, or from the same fire/stove), the present database is a compilation of information on the main fuel used for cooking purposes only.

Viewing and obtaining the database

The full database is available by contacting:

National solid fuel use estimates

The latest modelled estimates for national solid fuel use for cooking, as reported in the World Health Statistics, are derived using the raw data from the database.

Monitoring use of the database

In order to monitor the use, analysis and application of the database, and to solicit suggestions for development and improvements, WHO will ask all users to complete a brief questionnaire on planned aims, analysis and outputs, and will follow this up in due course. Participation in this monitoring and evaluation exercise is voluntary.

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