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Cookstoves and Air Pollution in Madagascar: Finding Winning Solutions for Human Health and Biodiversity



2016-07-01 19:46:35 - 2017-12-15 19:46:35

Project Objectives

Respiratory health is a major global health challenge, especially in low- and middle-income countries. In urban areas of the developing world, air pollution from automobiles, burning of refuse and under-regulated industry pose significant health risks. In rural areas, open-fire cooking increases exposure to carbon monoxide and small and large particulate matter, which can lead to serious long-term health consequences. These health effects often asymmetrically impact those who do the cooking and are near the cooking fires: women and their dependent children. The World Health Organization estimates that more than two million people die annually from the effects of indoor air pollution originating from primitive household fires, which is more deaths than are attributed to malaria.

In addition to their negative effects on human health, traditional cooking practices endanger biodiversity and contribute to global warming. A typical family using traditional cooking practices is estimated to use around two tons of firewood per year. Loss of trees represents lost habitat for biodiversity. The loss of ground cover also impacts evapotranspiration and other processes, with consequent drying of the microclimate. Hence, traditional cooking practices can impact agricultural output in rural communities, while contributing to greenhouse gases and pollutants involved in climate change at a global scale.

Working with the Duke Lemur Center's SAVA Conservation Initiative, this project team will investigate the health consequences of traditional cooking practices in Mandena, Madagascar. Team members will quantify the consequences of current cooking practices on human respiratory health and air quality; assess the impact of wood extraction for cooking on nearby forests and wildlife and quantify human effort needed to obtain sufficient firewood; and investigate whether cooking practices account for the high rates of cardiopulmonary disease observed in this population. Through this highly interdisciplinary project, we aim to produce a winning solution for the health of humans, their environments and biodiversity.

Project Opportunities

The team will travel to Madagascar over two summers to investigate current cooking methods,human health and environmental degradation, and then to implement changes that shift practices to cleaner-burning cookstove technology that will also reduce deforestation. Students will receive training in measuring carbon monoxide and particulate matter in air; assessing respiratory and cardiovascular health; evaluating ecological impacts of firewood extraction; and running statistical tests.

Required course: Seminar, Fall 2016

Students will have opportunities for developing the protocols; testing the equipment before going to the field; contributing to the IRB and other approvals; presenting the research before and after going to Madagascar at team meetings and public events; and building a sub-team that will work together to ensure success.

All participants should be interested in both conservation biology and global health, and excited for an opportunity to travel to Madagascar. Students with backgrounds in evolutionary anthropology, biology, ecology, public policy, and environmental sciences are especially encouraged to apply. Extensive outdoors/wilderness experience, such as camping, and previous travel to rural areas of low- and middle-income countries, ideally in Africa, is appreciated. French language skills are useful.

We anticipate that the research will result in 1-3 published papers, along with reports to local health authorities. We ultimately hope that a major deliverable will be improved cookstoves for a substantial number of households in Mandena and nearby villages.

Project Application Process

All interested students must complete the Bass Central Application process, located here: https://bassconnections.duke.edu/content/common-application. When you have completed that process, please send an email to Lysa.mackeen@duke.edu with the title of the project and "application completed" in the subject line.

Project Selection Criteria


Ability to speak French is an advantage, but not required.

Project Application Deadline


Project Status


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