By Gift Briton

Over 1200 additional schools in Kenya are set to benefit from an initiative by the Equity Bank Kenya that facilitates schools across the country to use cleaner energy for cooking.

These schools will join the pool of over 400 other schools across the 47 counties that the Bank has supported, since the initiative was launched in 2021, to transition from the use of wood-based fuel to cleaner fuels such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

The initiative is expected to reduce the rate of deforestation in Kenya by reducing overreliance on wood-based fuels especially by schools, and will put Kenya on track to achieve her target of ensuring that all schools use clean energy by 2025 and other climate change targets.

Equity bank under the project dubbed: Clean cooking project, facilitates schools to access cleaner energy for cooking by providing financing for the equipment and other installation costs based on the school’s needs.

In Kenya, nine in every ten schools use firewood for cooking. The use of firewood produces harmful gases and tiny particles which pollutes the air, and are detrimental both to human health and the environment.

For instance, burning firewood produces a harmful gas known as carbon monoxide (CO) and other microscopic particles which can cause several health problems, including death. Burning firewood also releases excess carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere leading to global warming.

Latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that approximately 67,000 people die each year in Kenya due to air pollution, including pollutants resulting from the use of firewood as a fuel.

Furthermore, data from the Clean Cooking Alliance of Kenya shows that primary and secondary schools in Kenya uses one metric tonnes of wood-fuel each year. However, science has proven that for every one metric tonne of wood burnt, 1.8 metric tonnes of CO2 gas is released into the atmosphere.

Air Pollution and Cognitive Performance

Air pollution is associated with several health and environmental hazards. The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has partnered with the Equity Bank Kenya, and the Liverpool University to investigate the changes in health impacts of air pollution in schools that have transitioned to clean energy vis-a-vis when the school was using wood-based fuels for cooking.

KEMRI together with partners will investigate the changes in respiratory diseases and cognitive performance of the students as well as changes in the level of air pollutants in the schools that have transitioned from wood-based fuels to cleaner fuels.

The research will focus on the changes in the level of particulate matter- harmful microscopic particles produced from burning firewood- as well as CO and C02. The researchers will also establish how and whether these harmful particles and gases affect cognitive performance of students.

“Measurements of air pollution in some schools that are using wood-based fuels indicates that the air pollution levels in those schools is in excess by more than 85 times of the safe guidelines provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The safe levels according WHO is 15micrograms per cubic metres. But what we are seeing is that some schools are recording up to 1350 micrograms per metre cube of pollutants in the air. This is a very polluted air and is no wonder why some of the cooks in schools and students are always absent. This is because they get sick from the exposure to theses harmful gases and particles,” Dr James Mwitari, Researcher and the Co-Director of the clean air project at KEMRI said during the launch of this partnership project at the ongoing 14TH KEMRI Annual Scientific and Health Conference (KASH) in Nairobi, Kenya.

He added: “Air pollution has been associated with the development of diabetes type 2, esophagus cancer, and low birth weight for newborns whose mothers live in polluted environments. The other associations which we have had in few studies across the world, which we want to confirm within this project in the schools, is the cognitive performance for students. A study in India shows that children who are living in polluted environments are at risk of performing poorly in education than those that are learning in environment where pollution level is low.”

Eric Naivasha, Associate Director, Energy, Environment & Climate Change at Equity Group Foundation commented on the partnership saying, “Kenya’s education sector alone consumes over 10 million trees annually to keep their kitchens operational. This leads to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and adverse health outcomes. Aware of these repercussions, Equity, along with our technical partners, developed a clean cooking initiative targeting learning institutions to transition from biomass fuel to cleaner fuels like LPG. Our partnership with CLEAN-Air (Africa) will enable us to measure the health impact of clean cooking transitions, playing a pivotal role in shaping policy dialogue, investment flow, and the expansion of clean cooking interventions.”

Through this partnership, Equity will build the capacity of institutions to transition to clean cooking and will also work closely with the CLEAN-Air Africa team to measure health impacts before and after transition in institutions across Kenya and further support in disseminating the study findings to relevant stakeholders with key target to policy makers to influence policies.