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$1.3M given to DGHI joint project

A University effort to reduce indoor air pollution in India has gained national recognition.

The Duke Global Health Institute and two other organizations were awarded grants totaling $1.3 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development Oct. 18 to study different techniques aimed at reducing indoor air pollution. The research is part of the Translating Research into Action project and is a sign that as Duke continues to build its global presence, it is carrying some of its research abroad.

Three Duke researchers will examine cook stove technology in India, including factors that contribute to how families use and purchase stoves, and will examine the circumstances that could lead to the adoption of new, healthier cook stove technologies. The two-year long research project—the Duke Cookstove Initiative—will begin Spring 2012 and will be led by Subhrendu Pattanayak, associate professor of public policy, environment, economics and global health. Pattanayak could not be reached for comment.

“Indoor air pollution is a serious problem in most parts of the developing world.... This research will be formative in bringing attention to improved stove usage,” said Marc Jeuland, assistant professor of public policy and faculty affiliate of DGHI.

The Duke team will collaborate with the SURYA project in Uttar Padesh, India. Researchers with the SURYA project have piloted improved cook stoves and analyzed their effectiveness at reducing carbon emissions, Jeuland said. He will be working on the initiative with Pattanayak.

Half of the world’s population cooks with solid fuels—such as wood, animal dung or agricultural residues—on open fires or traditional cook stoves made of clay, mud and dirt. The emissions of poorly functioning cook stoves cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems that account for the deaths of nearly two million people each year, according to a DGHI release Oct. 18.

Additionally poorly-functioning stoves have harsh impacts on the environment. The stoves’ have high fuel requirements, putting strain on forest ecosystems and producing black carbon emissions that result in a short-term, global warming effect.

The project is significant because it will lead to a better understanding of how to influence human behavior in order to encourage the adoption of improved stoves in rural settings, DGHI Deputy Director Randall Kramer said.

“This could not only improve the health of many people but also reduce [carbon dioxide] emissions, giving a double benefit,” Kramer wrote in an email Tuesday.

DGHI Associate in Research Jessica Lewis, who will also be working on the project, said that although indoor air pollution has not necessarily gained the attention some other health issues have received, it is slowly being thrust into the global spotlight due to its detrimental effects. Lewis added that the research will better help address both health and environmental problems.

“It’s like hitting three birds with one stone,” Lewis said.

The research team has begun preparing for the project by studying existing research findings about the use of efficient cook stoves, Jeuland said. In India, researchers will first conduct baseline surveys in households to gather data about families’ current stove and fuel usages. After the information is collected, households will receive different types of treatments, such as financial incentives, social marketing or information about the health impacts of different stoves.

The research will provide information about the cost and effectiveness of different incentives, which will aid policy makers in encouraging the use of these different cooking technologies, Jeuland said, noting the project’s practical component.

“Talking to households about their experiences will lead to making better designs and technologies and ultimately, bettering and improving the lives of millions of people around the world,” he said.

Lewis noted that the project may have ground-breaking implications.

“Whatever we find, whichever of these treatments encourages adoption the most will be applied the most,” she said. “The research has a big potential for that kind of broad, global impact.”

The San Francisco-based group Impact Carbon and PATH, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to creating sustainable solutions internationally, are the other two award recipients. These groups and other DGHI researchers will work with partners in Uganda.

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