Applying a WASH approach to the clean cooking challenge

SNV wash

Worldwide, 3 billion people lack clean cooking facilities, whereas 2.4 billion people are still without basic sanitation; 1.1 billion people live without access to electricity and 600 million people are unable to access safe drinking water.

What is becoming increasingly evident is that global development challenges, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG6), which focuses on ensuring the availability of water and sanitation for all, and SDG7 which aims to ensure access to affordable, sustainable energy for all, are strikingly similar.

3.4 million people die prematurely as a result of waterborne diseases, with children’s diarrhea accounting for a disproportionate part. This is caused by the absence of effective fecal sludge treatment, and where people unwittingly consume trace amounts of polluted excrement that has infected their meal preparation area.

Likewise, almost 4.3 million deaths are attributable to household air pollution, many of which are children dying from pneumonia. The cause of this is that when cooking, the cooks (women) and surrounding family members (children) are exposed to smoke from burning firewood. Smoke exposure from cooking is like smoking 10 cigarettes each day [2].

Inspired by the successful formula championed by our colleagues working in Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), who reached more than 4.8 million people with sustained access to clean sanitation [3], the Energy team converted the WASH methodologies into one that addresses air and cooking problems. The first pilot took place in Battambang province in West Cambodia, that in previous years had participated in WASH campaigns and recently received an official Open Defecation Free (ODF) status, via the Nourish programme[4].

Riding the wave of the ODF successes in this village, SNV’s Energy team introduced the concept of a Smoke-Free Village. Achieving the designation of Smoke-Free Village would mean replacing traditional cooking (on solid fuels) with modern energy like LPG or electricity, and pellet gasifiers like the cookstove models produced by ACE, Prime, Mimi Moto, Burn and Khmer Eco.

Explaining the importance of clean cooking

Explaining the importance of clean cooking

A behavioral change community-based dialogue session

A behavioral change community-based dialogue session

Our approach also applies behavior change nudges to encourage no regrets measures like fuel-economical cooking, promoting ventilated cooking location, restricting children from getting close to the cooking area, and improving the drying practices of fuelwood to reduce moisture.

The behavioral change community-based dialogue sessions took 45 minutes each and included best practices in promoting adult engagement like gamification, quizzes, and short-puzzles, all designed to ignite dialogue, change perceptions, and to trigger behavioral changes.

After an interactive village-mapping exercise, we assessed for instance where the households were using modern and traditional cooking methods to identify the scope of the challenge and allow for sharing cooking experiences among families. We learned that the main disablers to modern cooking were finance, fear of LPG cylinders exploding, electrocution from devices, and mobility for families intermittently living near the rice field and in the village.

In this preliminary stage, we are working on evaluating and finetuning the tools and community-based communication methods to address these disablers. We are also working on monitoring and evaluation frameworks to be able to prove or disprove their overall effectiveness, including several qualitative metrics. If data indeed confirms our assumption that community dialogue over time will ignite a collective change to clean cooking, we may have identified new pathways to address a global problem that the international community is still trying to solve.


[1] WHO - Burden of disease from Household Air Pollution for 2012

[2] Reducing Emissions by Increasing the Adoption of Clean Stoves with Behavioural Change Techniques

[3] Assessing the Impact and Equity of an Integrated Rural Sanitation Approach

[4] Integrated Nutrition, Hygiene and Sanitation Project (NOURISH)

[5] What’s health got to do with it? Testing marketing messages for clean cookstoves in Cambodia and Kenya