The Forgotten 3 Billion
Question: What human behavior causes two million premature deaths a year--twice as many deaths as malaria--and nearly 50% of pneumonia deaths among children under five?
Hint: Almost 42% of people around the world, mostly in low-income developing countries, practice it.
Answer: Cooking and heating homes using open fires and leaky stoves which burn biomass (wood, animal dung, and crop waste) and coal.
Around 3 billion people still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels in open fires and leaky stoves. According to a 2011 WHO Fact Sheet, open fires and common indoor stoves “produce high levels of indoor air pollution with a range of health-damaging pollutants, including small soot particles that penetrate deep into the lungs. In poorly ventilated dwellings, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels for small particles. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time near the domestic hearth.”. WHO reports that women and men exposed to heavy indoor smoke are 2-3 times more likely to develop chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD), which kills over 1 million people a year.
The Fact Sheet points out that use of polluting fuels also poses a major burden on development:
- Fuel gathering consumes considerable time for women and children, limiting other productive activities and taking children away from school.
- Non-renewable harvesting of biomass contributes to deforestation and thus climate change.
Solution: The United Nations Foundation’s new Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a public-private initiative to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. One such cooking solution, developed by Stove Team International--a Global Alliance implementing partner-- is The Ecocina portable stove. The stove is economical to build and operate, saves up to 60% of the wood used by a traditional fire, and reduces particulate matter and carbon emissions by over 70%. It produces almost no smoke and, apart from the cooking surface, is cool to the touch.
Made from readily available local materials requiring only limited tools and training to manufacture, the Ecocina is small and portable, enabling it to be easily transported.
Stove Team International has established local factories in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. The Ecocina stove has replaced the traditional open cooking fire in more than 15,000 homes across Central America, reaching more than 90,000 people. The stoves are distributed with training from local women. In this way, Stove Team hopes that the fuel-efficient stoves will become culturally acceptable and be part of each country's developing economy.
Nancy Sanford Hughes, 68, from Eugene, Oregon founded Stove Team International four years ago. In November 2011, she won a $100,000 Purpose Prize award for making an extraordinary impact in an encore career. She developed the stove after a medical mission to Guatemala where she met an 18-year-old indigenous woman who was a patient at the clinic. The patient’s hands had been burned shut at age 2 when she fell into the family cooking fire. Hughes returned home and collaborated with rocket stove inventor Larry Winiarski to develop the Ecocina.
Tackling indoor air pollution will help achieve many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular MDG 4 (reduce child mortality) and MDG 5 (improve maternal health) according to the WHO fact sheet. It will also contribute to gender equality (MDG 3) as well as freeing women's time for income generation that helps eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1). Finally, clean household energy can help ensure environmental sustainability (MDG 7).
More information is available in the Peace Corps Improved Stoves and Ovens Toolkit on K4Health.org.
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