The commission will conduct the study with support from ICIMOD

Environment: Every morning Pema, a villager in Wangdue burns incense in her altar room after offering butter lamps and water.

This is a common ritual practiced in almost all households across the country as part of religious offerings. From traditional ceremonies to ritual offerings, burning incense is an integral part of tradition even today.

Burning incense at home is an ancient religious ritual to honor the Triple Gem, Buddha, his Dharma and Sangha. The aroma of incense, typically derived from herbs, flowers and other natural resources is believed to purify the atmosphere.

However, according to a study by University of North Carolina researchers in 2013, smoke from incense burning indoor carries similar health risks as cigarette smoke. The study has also linked incense burning as possible cause of respiratory diseases.

In Bhutan, burning incense has deep traditional and religious sentiments attached to it.

The National Environment Commission (NEC) officials said that the commission has not conducted any survey or study on indoor air pollution or the impact of incense burning or traditional cooking methods on human health as of now.

However, the commission with support from ICIMOD, Nepal is planning to conduct a study to measure pollution from burning incense.

While the Road Safety and Transport Authority conducts vehicle emission tests every year, NEC conducts pollution tests at the Pasakha industrial area on a regular basis, officials said.

Many rural villages in far-flung villages are still exposed to indoor smoke caused by traditional cooking methods such as wood-fed stoves used for heating water, cattle feed and also for preparing local drinks.

Some villagers in Taksha and Silli villages in Wangdue still use wood-fed stove to cook and for heating homes despite having electricity given the easy availability of firewood, said Daga gewog’s administrative officer, Desang.

Desang said as Wogayna chiwog is one of the villages yet to be electrified, almost all households in the chiwog used traditional stoves until last year. However, the entire chiwog was provided with smoke-free biomass stoves through the United Nation Development Programme’s (UNDP) Sustainable Rural Biomass Energy (SRBE) project.

Despite biomass smoke free stove, some people still used traditional stoves to heat water and cook cattle feed, said gewog officials.

According to UNDP, SBRE project was initiated to reduce the fuel wood consumption and emissions. Close to 70 percent of those who live in rural areas use fuel wood as a main source of energy.

Gasa Dzongdag Dorji Dhradhul said compared to other gewogs, Laya and Lunana still have a long way to go in achieving smoke-free homes, but things have improved with electricity arriving in Laya. Many households in Lunana have LPG gas stoves although the place is yet to be electrified.

However, given the remoteness and lack of resources, people have no choice but to use traditional stoves as an alternative, leaving many people still exposed to indoor smoke pollution.

World Health Organisation reports state that traditional use of household energy like cooking or heating homes using biomas fuels such as crop residues, dung, straw and wood, produces high levels of indoor air pollution. The indoor smoke comprises a variety of health-damaging pollutants.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue