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IJHSR. 2016; 6(1): 348-361

Dealing with Indoor Air Pollution: An Ethnographic Tale from Urban Slums in Bangalore.

Cristian Ghergu, Preeti Sushama, Joan Vermeulen, Anja Krumeich, Nadine Blankvoort, Onno CP van Schayck, Luc P de Witte.

Background: Indoor air pollution (IAP) was recently recognized as the single largest environmental risk to health. In India, residents of non-notified urban slums face a disproportionate threat associated with this health risk due to their high dependence on biomass fuels for cooking.
Purpose of the study: To provide a detailed analysis of the contextual factors shaping people’s choices, views and needs with respect to cooking equipment in non-notified urban slums of Bangalore. Furthermore, an implication for designing and implementing a solution to reduce IAP exposure in these settings is explored.
Methodology: An ethnographic study was conducted across three heterogeneous non-notified slums in Bangalore, India. Data was collected over 3 months in the form of observations, interviews (22) and community forums (3), focusing on understanding how participants experience living in slums and how these experiences shape their cooking practices.
Findings: The study identified interrelated and co-dependent factors spanning across social, financial and ecological dimensions and are engaged in a complex interplay. These include insecure living conditions, constrained physical and social space, varying views on comfort, hygiene and cleanliness, perception of smoke as irritant, and limited temporal and financial resources.
Conclusions: The highly heterogeneous and dynamic character of the slums points towards the need to adopt a flexible, adaptive and context-conscious approach to the design and implementation of a solution to IAP. Furthermore, there is an emerging need to focus on alternative incentives, different from the ones traditionally addressed by initiatives and studies on IAP. The knowledge of slum dwellers vis--vis their surrounding environment, cooking practices and equipment points towards the indispensability of employing a participatory approach whereby the end-users are engaged with other stakeholders in co-creating a solution to IAP and other issues impinging upon its adoption and sustainability.

Key words: Pollution, cooking, stoves, slum, India, ethnography.

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