Shell Foundation, a UK-based charity organization, and Envirofit International, a US-based not-for-profit, will raise a corpus of $25 million, (Rs98.9 crore), part of which will be used to provide clean cooking stoves that would help reduce exposure to indoor air pollution in India.

The World Health Organization says indoor air pollution is responsible for 1.5 million deaths worldwide

“For distribution, we intend to employ commercial manufacturers and distributors for production and transport of the stove to the rural areas. We are also likely to use NGOs, local women’s groups and shops for dissemination," said Simon Bishop, policy and communications manager, Shell Foundation.

Each stove will cost anywhere between $5 and $15, (Rs200 and Rs600), though the price has not been fixed yet. While Shell will provide the capital and organizational support, Envirofit will design, develop, market and distribute the clean cooking stoves that will emit significantly less toxic emissions and use less fuel.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), nearly two billion people in the world are exposed to enhanced concentrations of particulate matter and gases, up to 10-20 times higher than health-based guideline values available for typical urban outdoor concentrations.

In India, approximately, 86% of rural households, and 24% of urban households, rely on biomass, such as animal dung, crop residues and wood, as the primary fuel, for cooking or heating. Incomplete combustion of such fuels result in the release of harmful gases.

Compared with other countries, India has the largest number of people exposed to dirty household fuels; India accounts for more than a quarter, 28% of deaths due to indoor air pollution in developing countries, according to ICMR research.

Earlier experiments with distribution of clean stoves in rural areas did not succeed. An initiative by the ministry of new and renewable energy, earlier ministry of non-conventional energy sources, to provide free stoves was abandoned due to poor response. “The chulhas were good but implementation was wrong. You can’t just dump the stoves on people who don’t know why it is being given to them," said Rashmi Patil, professor, Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, who was employed by the ministry to study the failure of the project.

Patil adds that though the stoves resulted in a 40% decrease in exposure, often, it was found that the stoves were improperly placed, villagers did not know how to repair them, or where to procure spare parts. “Once some problem arose with the stove, the villager would just discard it for the lack of knowledge. A training and awareness component is very critical."

Officials maintain that the new initiative, with underlying commercial principles, will be able to work around these problems. “There will be a profit margin along the whole chain. The only way for this to work is to involve markets. Our aim is to make it a successful and profitable business and then copy it for other places," said Bishop.