This article written by US Ambassador to India, Timothy J Roemer was published in the Deccan Heraldon 7th March,2010.

In countries all over the world, people cook their daily meals over smoky, sooty, and poorly ventilated traditional wood or biomass cook stoves — ‘chulas’ in India.

In fact, more than three billion people — half of the world’s population — still cook in their homes using traditional open fires and stoves.

It is an unfortunate, yet well-documented fact that open cook stoves contribute to indoor air pollution, a health hazard associated with life threatening pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, infant death and low birth weight. Open cook stoves are also a source of black carbon, which is now recognised as a contributor to regional warming and climate issues.

You do not see cook stoves listed as a major cause of mortality around the world, but, according to the World Health Organisation, indoor air pollution from open fire cook stoves is responsible for more than 1.5 million deaths every year. And, because women are usually responsible for food preparation, the majority of those exposed to indoor air pollution are women and their young children.

I am deeply concerned about the harmful effects of indoor air pollution on the health and well-being of men, women, and children, as well as on our environment. It breaks my heart to know that the simple and universal act of preparing a meal and nourishing a family can expose the household and neighbourhood to dangerous levels of pollution.

Cook stove technology has improved greatly over the years but there are many obstacles in getting the right stoves into the homes of those who need them most. As someone who has followed the issue for years, I know the picture can seem bleak.

That is why I heartily embraced the recent announcement that the ministry of new and renewable energy would be introducing a bold new ‘National Biomass Cook Stove Initiative.’ This ambitious new programme can lead the way to a solution, not only for the citizens of India but for others at risk around the world.

India has had many years of experience tackling the difficult issue of indoor air pollution and experts here recognise the challenges associated with providing effective and low cost solutions.

Shortly after the ministry announced the new initiative in early December, the United States embassy in New Delhi hosted a conference to share cutting edge research on the impact of indoor air pollution and the beneficial effects of improved cook stoves on health.

The conference participants — experts in their fields from India and the US, as well as US and Indian companies producing state-of-the art efficient and low-polluting cook stoves — strategised together. They looked for ways to partner to effectively produce, distribute, and commercialise improved cook stove technology.

They agreed that solutions must be sustainable in the long term, use available sources of energy, and be both affordable and convenient for the intended users. Collaboration between public and private sectors in both our countries, such as the Envirofit facility in Bangalore, will be critical to success.

I was honoured that New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah took the time to attend and speak at the conference. He spoke eloquently and knowledgeably about the effects of indoor air pollution on vulnerable citizens and on the environment. The challenges are real and immediate, but so are the possibilities for success.

Recently, I heard the story of Ratima, from Mysore, who talked about how cooking with her old cook stove “was always extremely difficult and painful.” She told us that “the old wood stove would cause my eyes to burn and my chest to pain.”

Fortunately, she was able to purchase an improved, affordable cook stove in India that was easy to use, met her cooking needs, and made her feel healthier. “Since using the new cook stove,” she said, “I no longer have these health problems and I am extremely happy with the stove.”

The US and India are at a watershed moment in the history of our global partnership. We are working together on initiatives spanning the full range of human endeavour, including a partnership to develop clean energy technologies, which will provide us with an environmentally-sustainable, healthier future while creating job opportunities for the citizens of both our countries.

Together, we will find a sustainable solution that will benefit not only Indian citizens but also the billions of vulnerable people around the world who are currently at risk from the effects of pollution from cook stoves. This technology will improve the health and lives of Indians while paving the way for a brighter and more environmentally safe future for people around the world.

I know we can use our combined talents in business and government to create a future where all families will be able to prepare and to share meals that bind them together in a safe and healthy environment.