Not very glamorous but significant cause of lung infections in women and children.
September 20, 2010
Developing Nations to Get Clean-Burning Stoves
By JOHN M. BRODER
WASHINGTON — Nearly three billion people in the developing world cook their meals on primitive indoor stoves fueled by crop waste, wood, coal and dung. Every year, according to the United Nations, smoke from these stoves kills 1.9 million people, mostly women and children, from lung and heart diseases and low birth weight.
The stoves also contribute to global warming as a result of the millions of tons of soot they spew into the atmosphere and the deforestation caused by cutting down trees to fuel them.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to announce a significant commitment to a group working to address the problem, with a goal of providing 100 million clean-burning stoves to villages in Africa, Asia and South America by 2020. The United States is providing about $50 million in seed money over five years for the project, known as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
More than a dozen other partners, including governments, multilateral organizations and corporate sponsors, are to contribute an additional $10 million or more.
Mrs. Clinton called the problem of indoor pollution from primitive cookstoves a “cross-cutting issue” that affects health, the environment and women’s status in much of the world. “That’s what makes it such a good subject for a coordinated approach of governments, aid organizations and the private sector,” she said in a telephone interview on Monday.
She acknowledged that the American government’s contribution of $50 million was a modest commitment for a problem with enormous implications for billions of people worldwide.
“Like anything,” she said, “we have to start somewhere.”
Mrs. Clinton is to make the announcement at the annual aid conference sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative, former President Bill Clinton’s health, development and environmental organization. She will be joined by Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and officials from a number of partner groups, including the United Nations Foundation.
Although the toxic smoke from the primitive stoves is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, and perhaps the second biggest contributor to global warming, after the industrial use of fossil fuels, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations.
The World Health Organization says that indoor air pollution caused by such cooking methods is the fourth greatest health risk factor in developing countries, after unclean water and sanitation, unsafe sex and undernourishment. The gathering of fuel is mainly done by women and children, millions of whom are exposed daily to dangers in conflict-torn regions. The need to forage for fuel also keeps millions of children out of school.
Although researchers have been aware of the health and environmental risks caused by carbon-belching indoor cookstoves for decades, there has been little focus on replacing them until recently, and it is not clear that the alliance’s high-profile initiative can pay the intended quick dividends. An estimated 500 million households depend on burning biomass for cooking and heating, some in the remotest places on earth, and it will not be easy to reach them with affordable and acceptable alternatives.
Even if the alliance’s goal were fully met, it would address no more than a fifth of the problem, according to its sponsors.
Stoves that are coming on the market for as little as $20 are 50 percent more efficient than current cooking methods, which are often simply open fires or crude clay domes, backers of the project say. A $100 model can capture 95 percent of the harmful emissions while burning far less fuel to produce the same amount of energy.
Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, one of the founding partners of the alliance, said that the plan was not simply to use donations to buy millions of new stoves and ship them out to the developing world.
Rather, he said, the group hopes to create an entrepreneurial model in which small companies manufacture or buy the stoves close to their markets, taking into account local fuel choices, food consumption patterns and methods of cooking. This microproject model is expected to provide business opportunities for women while reducing the fuel-gathering burden of women and children around the world.
“The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” Mr. Detchon said.
“These stoves don’t have a long lifetime,” he said. “To produce low cost and high volume, you’ll have to replace them relatively frequently, perhaps every two, three or five years. You’ll need a supply chain and business model that delivers them, not on a one-time basis, but as a continuing enterprise.”
Among the other founding partners of the alliance are the Shell Foundation, the Morgan Stanley Foundation, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the governments of Germany, Norway and the Netherlands.
Aside from the State Department and the E.P.A., participating United States agencies include the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services.