Al-kiba replaces wood in Yemeni villages [Archives:2006/986/Health]

October 2 2006

Nawal Zaid
Many rural populations in Yemen still rely on wood, coal and/or agricultural waste to meet their basic fuel needs for cooking and heating. However, in some regions that lack wood, residents use Al-kiba, sometimes called Al-Dhamaj.

Al-kiba is made from the dung of animals like cows and goats that live in villages. It's used as a fuel for stoves without chimneys that are used for cooking. Although Al-kiba was used many years ago, many Yemenis still prefer using it for cooking, particularly to make bread.

“I dislike bread cooked by gas. I prefer the tasty bread cooked by Al-kiba,” notes 70-year-old Mohammed Al-Matari.

Women and children mostly are responsible for making Al-kiba, collecting dung from the animals and placing it in a deep hole dug outside and far from the house to avoid the sharp, unpleasant smell. Next, they pour water on the dung, continuing to pour approximately two liters on it every morning for seven days.

After this, women trample on the mixture by foot to produce a soft, thick paste. The trampling process sometimes can take two days. Afterward, they remove the paste from the hole, cut it into small pieces and form them into circular shapes. One paste mixture can make 50 circles.

“I find no difficulties in making Al-kiba. I consider it a duty like any other I must do at home,” says 50-year-old Mahdia Al-Marani, adding, “Its smell doesn't bother me. I also try to store and save pieces from year to year.”

“Making Al-kiba is an inherited tradition and it's very easy. I'm used to the smell so it doesn't bother me,” says 30-year-old Khadija Al-Badwi adding, “My friends and I spend our afternoon leisure time making Al-kiba and we enjoy it.”

However, not everyone finds making Al-kiba as attractive as Al-Badwi. Many believe cooking with gas is easier, faster and produces less smoke than cooking with Al-kiba.

“I don't like Al-kiba. I don't even like to see it and I hate its smell,” says 20-year-old Aisha Al-Nsari, confirming that many young women nowadays refuse to make Al-kiba because they want to protect their health and their skin from dryness and chapping.

Young women usually try to avoid the smell by veiling their faces while kneading/trampling. They also wear leather gloves and boots in attempts to protect their hands and legs from chapping.

“I experiencing coughing and eye allergies due to the smoke produced from Al-kiba,” says Fwazia Ali, noting that there are no other options but to make Al-kiba because wood rarely is found in her village. She adds that fire produced from wood isn't strong like that produced by Al-kiba, whose flames remain until it's extinguished by water or dirt.

Dr. Adel Al-Haj of the Yemen German Hospital in Sana'a confirms that smoke is the main reason for the spread of serious diseases among rural Yemenis, noting that the hospital receives more than 100 cases monthly involving diseases related to smoke's impacts on the respiratory system.

“This smoke, which contains carbon monoxide, leads to inflammation in the chest, loss of appetite and impairs the immune system. The stomach and brain also are affected by constant exposure to the smell and the smoke, which sometimes leads to cancer,” he adds.