Sustainable Development: Cleaning up the Kitchen

cookstoveLast week, a new international alliance was launched to address the problems of inefficient cook stoves used in rural, poor households that are responsible for the deaths of almost 2 million people every year.

Exposure to smoke from traditional cook stoves and open fires kills an estimated 1.6 to 1.8 million women and children and causes countless more cases of pneumonia, lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases. According to the World Health Organisation, cooking smoke is responsible for more deaths than malaria.

As the primary cooking and heating tool for nearly three billion people in the developing world, traditional cook stoves – fueled by crop waste, wood, coal and dung - not only endanger lives - mainly those of women and children - but also contribute to climate change at the regional and global level. Inefficient cooking stoves are estimated to be responsible for approximately 25% of emissions of black carbon, which itself is a significant contributor to climate change, and also result in deforestation due to the cutting down of trees to fuel the stoves. Scientists estimate that, after industrial emissions, stoves are the second leading cause of climate change.

By using alternative fuels, including solar-powered cookers, the clean cook stoves initiative can also make a contribution to reducing deforestation by curbing the large quantities of wood and other biomass used to make charcoal. Other fuels include liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and a new ‘gel’ fuel which consists of ethanol and organic pulp.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a public-private partnership that is convened by the UN Foundation. Partners, which include non-profits, foundations - including the Morgan Stanley Foundation, academic institutions, governments, and UN agencies, aim to foster a thriving global market for clean and efficient stoves and to provide 100 million clean-burning cook stoves to households across Africa, Asia and Latin America by 2020. The US is providing $50 million over five years for the project, with the other partners to contribute an additional $10 million or more.

Through a global partnership, the alliance’s members hope to facilitate the production and deployment of clean cook stoves by overcoming trade barriers between countries and regions in the developing world. Strategies will identify market-based solutions that emphasise women’s participation. Creating an efficient and sustainable clean cook stove supply chain – involving design, manufacture and distribution – can help create jobs at the local level, creating an entrepreneurial model rather than simply donating millions of new stoves.

Whilst primitive stoves are a major cause of death for many women and children in developing countries, and a danger to the environment, this is not an issue that first springs to mind when thinking about the difficulties that people face. Bringing this to light will certainly place it higher on the agenda of governments and international aid organisations. Though, the $50 million and provision of 100 new stoves pledged so far are no match for the estimated 500 million households that currently depend on primitive stoves in some of the world’s most remote and hard-to-reach areas.