Failed Humanitarian AidSeveral failed humanitarian efforts can be attributed to the fact that some programs developed with good intentions fail to take into account the local context in which they are implemented. Others are simply poorly executed. But, no matter the type of failure, failed humanitarian aid projects teach valuable lessons. If heeded, these lessons can ensure the success of future programs.

Unanswered Calls to a GBV Hotline in Kenya

Research shows that domestic violence affects 35% of women worldwide. Additionally, male partners are responsible for 38% of the murders of women.

Furthermore, gender-based violence across the globe perpetuates poverty. For example, violence and the fear of violence, affect the performance of girls and women in their educational pursuits as well as employment. It often results in girls dropping out of school and women leaving their jobs, thereby limiting their independence.

In 2015, NGOs like Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee implemented a toll-free hotline in Kenya. The hotline intended to make it easier to file reports of gender-based violence (GBV) and speed up criminal investigations and litigation.

Investigative reporting revealed that for parts of 2018, the gender violence hotline was out of order. When it was working, sometimes the experts manning the hotline were not escalating reports to the police. In addition, there were other staffing and technical issues. Also, several police officers were not aware that such a hotline existed.

Abandoned Cookstoves in India

Indoor air pollution is a leading risk factor for premature deaths globally. Global data reveals that death rates from indoor air pollution are highest in low-income countries.

In 2010, former U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves initiative. The U.N. backed the $400 million initiative with the intention of reducing indoor air pollution in India.

Most of the clean cookstoves built were abandoned four years later, despite initial success. There are several reasons for the abandonment. Research found that the clean cookstoves required people to pay closer attention while cooking and necessitated longer cooking times. The stoves would also break down and then went unrepaired. Households also found it restrictive that the stoves could not be moved outside.

Repurposed Public Restrooms in Kenya

One in three people worldwide do not have access to improved sanitation and 15% of the world resort to open defecation. Lack of proper sanitation increases the risk of infectious diseases and diarrhoeal diseases. It is important to acknowledge that unsafe sanitation accounts for 5% of deaths in low-income countries.

On World Toilet Day in 2014, the Ministry of Devolution launched a program to construct 180 public toilets in the Kibera slum. The arm of government involved in construction built the toilets and sewer lines that would connect to the main sewage line. Local youth groups managed the restrooms. Water shortages and sewer lines in disrepair quickly decommissioned multiple toilets. The youth groups did not have the resources to address these issues so they then decided to rent out the restroom spaces for other purposes.

Focusing on the Lessons

These failed humanitarian aid projects were well-intentioned and there are key lessons to learn from each case.

The failed hotline in Kenya demonstrates the importance of program monitoring and investment follow-through. Efforts to foster awareness had little impact and staffing and technical issues went unaddressed.

The unused cookstoves in India show the importance of understanding the day-to-day needs of the people the program intends to help. The desire to cook outside while avoiding extended cooking times swayed people away from using the stoves.

The restrooms in Kenya lacked sufficient monitoring once handed over to youth groups. The youth groups also did not have the necessary support or resources to address the challenges that quickly became insurmountable financial obstacles for the groups.

By taking these lessons forward to new projects, people can leverage the understanding of failed humanitarian aid projects of the past as a way to promote future success.

Amy Perkins
Photo: pixabay

Liquid Petroleum GasIn North Darfur, a region of Sudan, 90% of families use wood and charcoal to stay warm and cook meals. Burning wood and charcoal, however, has several negative effects. Practical Action, an international development organization, has partnered with the Women’s Developmental Association to provide these families with liquid petroleum gas stoves, which are cleaner and more efficient. The Low Smoke Stoves Project has been ongoing since 2014, significantly improving the lives of families in the Darfur region.

Negative Effects of Burning Wood and Charcoal

  • It hurts the environment by causing pollution and deforestation.
  • It produces a lot of smoke indoors, which can cause infections and illnesses.
  • The materials are expensive to buy, putting a financial burden on poor families.

Wood and charcoal produce a lot of smoke when burned, contributing to bad air quality and causing a variety of health issues that mainly affect the women and children in the home. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, wood smoke causes particle pollution and releases pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The particle pollution caused by wood smoke can cause eye infections, chest infections and other illnesses that can be expensive to treat. Deforestation is also an issue in regions that rely heavily on firewood.

Other than the environmental and health concerns associated with burning wood and charcoal, there is also the financial burden it places on families. The materials are expensive to buy and do not cook efficiently. Women have to spend long amounts of time cooking instead of using their time for education and development.

Benefits of Liquid Petroleum Gas Stoves

Liquid petroleum gas stoves have a lot of benefits over traditional cooking methods with wood or charcoal. They produce less smoke and other pollutants, improving air quality and reducing infections and other illnesses in poor families. The stoves are more fuel-efficient, saving families 65% on their monthly bills. Liquid petroleum gas stoves also cook faster, giving women more time to engage in education and development.

Practical Action’s Low Smoke Stoves Project

Practical Action’s ongoing Low Smoke Stoves Project aims to educate regional communities about the dangers of burning wood and charcoal as well as replace those methods with more environmentally friendly and cost-efficient liquid petroleum gas stoves. The organization, partnered with the Women’s Development Association, has already placed 12,080 liquid petroleum gas stoves into homes in the North Darfur region. Since the beginning of the project, the area had improved air quality, less deforestation and lower carbon emissions.

This program works by giving eligible households a microloan to help them buy a liquid petroleum gas stove. While there is an initial cost, the stoves are more fuel and time-efficient so they quickly pay for themselves with the savings they produce. The stoves not only help improve the quality of life for families in North Darfur, but they also have long-term economic benefits, thus helping to lift people out of poverty.

–  Starr Sumner
Photo: Flickr

insulated WonderbagIn Africa, nearly 90% of women use open fire cooking methods. The same is common for women in developing countries throughout the world. This system can often take hours to cook a full meal. The insulated Wonderbag, a heat retention cooking device, aims to change lives and create a sustainable life for those living in poverty, especially women.

The Insulated Wonderbag

In developing countries, gendered roles like cooking and tending to the household take up a lot of time.  The amount of time spent cooking could be better used on activities that result in the progression of women, such as education and development. Often, women are disproportionately responsible for cooking meals and the labor that goes into the open fires that are required for such cooking. A South African entrepreneur decided to design an invention to help address these difficulties. The insulated Wonderbag is an eco-technology innovation that saves girls and women hours of time and labor and improves indoor air quality and overall health, among other benefits.

How the Wonderbag Began

The idea behind this invention comes from Sarah Collins, a local South African innovator with extensive knowledge of social development and a love for the environment. Collins grew up watching the women before her use cooking tricks to keep food warm when the power went out. One of these tricks, used by her grandmother, was letting hot pans of food sit in cushioned pads to remain warm. A life-changing yet straightforward concept that Collins took and made her own.

The Simple Magic of the Wonderbag

First and foremost, the Wonderbag is a product meant to alleviate women and girls’ daily struggles as caregivers and enable them to pursue education and employment. The Wonderbag works without electricity or gas and is made of upcycled materials such as poly-cotton and chipped-foam. Essentially, it functions similarly to a crockpot or a slow cooker. The insulated Wonderbag allows food, once brought to the boil by traditional cooking methods, to continue cooking for up to 12 hours inside the Wonderbag.

The Benefits of the Wonderbag

  • Females regain four to six hours of their day
  • Boosts household incomes up to $2 a day
  • Saves more than 1300 hours for girls and women each year, enabling them to go to school, learn skills and find employment
  • Raises incomes of women living in poverty
  • Decreases the use of fossil fuels for cooking by 70% and thus also the associated negative health impact
  • Allows women to re-invest their earnings into providing healthier meals for their families

The Impacts of the Wonderbag

Since 2008, the revolutionary Wonderbag has been distributed around the world. Thus far, it has had an impressive impact. The introduction of the Wonderbag into communities allows women the chance to build their own businesses and create jobs for others. These businesses range from serving warm meals to sewing new bags. Moreover, every time a Wonderbag is bought, another is donated to women in need in Africa, continuing the cycle of prosperity.

More than 130 NGOs in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, benefitted from reselling Wonderbags to generate an income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively, these NGOs generated almost two million South African rands to sustain their operations.

Overall, the global need for the insulated Wonderbag continues to grow. So far, there are more than one million Wonderbags worldwide. With every purchase, $1 goes toward subsidizing bags for people in vulnerable communities. The Wonderbag is an innovative solution to combat global poverty.

– Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

poverty in ChinaPoverty in China remains a pressing concern for the global community, as 252 million people—or 18% of China’s population—live on less than $2 per day. Another 22% of China’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day, especially in rural areas with struggling farming and fishing industries. Yet, many people don’t realize the extent of poverty in China.

Poverty in China

China remains as the second-largest economy in the world since the 2008 recession. There were still 5.5 million individuals living in extreme rural poverty in China by the end of 2019. This was even after an average of 13 million people were lifted out of poverty each year for the first five years of President Xi Jinping’s first term.

China’s mountainous terrain and varying natural conditions have caused issues like air pollution, water and soil problems and biodiversity loss. China’s natural landscape along with a lack of transport infrastructure makes poverty alleviation rather difficult.

However, many regions of China are trying to stimulate their economies by embracing regional cuisine. In Gansu and Qinghai Provinces, traditional noodles have stimulated the economy. In Guangdong, local chefs have run workshops to teach the poor how to cook and market their goods. Embracing traditional cuisine could help solve the poverty in China.

Noodle Initiative in Gansu Province

Gansu Province, located in North-Central China, created a noodle initiative in 2019. The aim was to alleviate poverty through the region’s specialty dish, Lanzhou noodles, prepared in a beef broth. Gansu authorities trained over 15,000 people from impoverished areas to make Lanzhou noodles from scratch, which would typically cost them $1.50. The participants then hopefully have a better chance to find employment at or open their own noodle shops. Similar initiatives in Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou and Beijing in 2018 led 90% of participants to find noodle-related jobs afterward, which helps fight poverty in China. These jobs typically earned the workers more than $590 a month.

The centuries-old noodle recipe calls for very precise noodle pulling. It can even take up to three years to fully master the skill. The Vocational and Technical College of Resources and Environment in Lanzhou helps many Lanzhou residents perfect their noodle-pulling craft. These new chefs also receive aid in fulfilling the necessary education requirements to spread their skills overseas.

The result is an estimated 4,000 Lanzhou noodle shops are currently open in Gansu province, which had the lowest GDP per capita of any Chinese province in 2017.

Hand-pulled noodles in Qinghai Province

Qinghai Province, located in China’s northwest on the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau, has seen drastic poverty reduction over the past decade. Previously plagued by poor infrastructure and lack of skilled labor, Qinghai has seen success with its “noodle” sector. The disposable income for farmers and herdsmen in the region nearly doubled from 2015 to 2018. Their poverty rates decreased from 24.6% to just 2.5% within that same time period.

Haidong, in northeast Qinghai, generated 15.4 billion yuan in business revenue. The source was from the city’s 578 noodle businesses, which employed 9,786 employees. One-third of the urban population and half of the families in rural areas are engaged in the city’s operating noodle businesses. The province has encouraged the noodle sector to continue hiring poorer residents. The city employs poverty reduction methods such as workshops, specific guidelines for growth and even a planned noodle business hub.

Benkanggou Village in Qinghai also helped eradicate poverty through the noodle industry. Over 110,000 of the villages’s 300,000 residents are engaged in the noodle industry. These numbers are thanks to the village’s 350 sessions of hand-pulled noodle training to over 13,000 families. Local authorities visited many poor households encouraging them to participate in the workshops. Thousands of more workers have been brought into the thriving industry since then.

River Snail Rice Noodles in Liuzhou

The city of Liuzhou, located in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is well known for its river snail rice noodles, or luosifen. Luosifen is a fusion of traditional ingredients from Han, Miao and Dong ethnic groups. It consists of rice noodles boiled with pickled bamboo shoots, dried turnip, fresh vegetables and peanuts in a spicy river snail soup. The dish was designated as part of Guangxi’s intangible cultural heritage in 2008. In the years since, the Liuzhou government has been boosting industries related to luosifen’s production. The region now brings in around six billion yuan annually.

Guangxi was listed as the province with the fourth lowest GDP per capita in 2018. Then in 2019, Guangxi lifted 1.25 million people out of poverty as well as de-listed 1,268 poor villages. This was a direct result of 337 workshops and 33 new poverty alleviation industrial parks. The luosifen industry played a major role in these poverty eradication efforts, as new factories have been created that specialize in instant luosifen, bamboo shoot processing, river snail collection and creative luosifen packaging.

Guangdong Cooking Initiatives

In Guangzhou in South China, an initiative called the Cantonese Cuisine Master program has tried to cultivate talent, promote cultural exchange and alleviate poverty in China through Cantonese cuisine training. The program has trained over 30,000 people so far and has mobilized over 96,000 people to secure employment and start their own businesses, lifting many out of poverty.

A Cantonese Cuisine Master Skills Competition in 2019 brought together many graduates of the program from 23 cities. Chefs prepared dishes like Chaoshan marinated goose, roasted crispy suckling pig, Portuguese-style chicken and flavored fish balls. Various Cantonese Cuisine Master programs and workshops have taken place in Hong Kong, Macao and other regions in southern China with the help of universities and enterprises. The program prepares chefs, many of whom come from rural and poverty-stricken areas, for the workforce. It also teaches the chefs about the concepts and ideas behind their cooking, which fosters cultural exchange and cooperation.

Since 2018, Guangdong has signed cooperation agreements with Tibet, Guangxi Zhuang, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions and Guizhou and Yunnan provinces to train more Cantonese chefs and help many escape poverty.

In Sichuan Province, 103 trainees from poverty-stricken counties—Meigu, Leibo and Jinyang—came to the Shunde District in Guangdong’s city of Foshan to receive free cooking lessons for two months at the Shunde Culinary Institute. They learned to cook traditional Cantonese dishes like stir-fried milk and stuffed mud carp as well as Sichuan-inspired dishes. After completing the program, trainees will have access to restaurant internships and full-time opportunities both in Shunde and in their hometowns. These sessions provided by Guangdong are said to increase monthly salaries by 1,000 to 2,000 yuan. Additionally, 56,000 students are currently enrolled in Cantonese cuisine courses at vocational schools across the province.

Noah Sheidlower
Photo: Flickr

Deforestation-in-Uganda
With only 10% of the rural population of Uganda having access to electricity, it is no surprise that the rest of the population is forced to rely on other sources for food and energy. Unfortunately, this means that many people cut down trees leading to one of the highest global deforestation rates. Each year, nearly 3% of Uganda’s forests are cut down for fuel, agriculture and to make room for an increasing population. At the current rate of deforestation in Uganda, the country is likely to lose all of its forests in the next 25 years.

The repercussions of these actions are clear to see. Besides the landscape almost being completely devoid of trees, the dry season has become longer and filled with more droughts. The loose soil has caused heavy rainfall to turn into deadly floods, while crops are producing less and less yield. The wood from cut trees is mostly used to fuel stoves for cooking. But this has caused a separate issue where the smoke collects inside homes and causes respiratory issues for family members who stay at home and cook.

How Mud Stoves Can Help Reduce Deforestation

Badru Kyewalyanga, a local man frustrated by the minimal action from the government on the matter, developed a solution to this issue: mud stoves. The stoves are made of mud, water and straw, and require little time to be constructed. Balls of mud are thrown into the ground to remove air bubbles and prevent cracks. The mud is then molded around the trunk of a banana-like plant called the matooke tree. The stove is cut and arranged to form a combustion chamber, a chimney and several ventilation shafts. After two weeks, the mud hardens and can be removed from the tree and is ready for use.

The stoves are incredibly efficient as they require only half the amount of wood for fuel compared to a traditional stove and oven. In addition, the placement of the chimney when attached to a wall of the house means that the wood smoke can escape without being trapped inside. Kyewalyanga, along with local and international volunteers has worked together to build over 100 stoves helping villagers to breathe cleaner air, while also reducing the rate of deforestation in Uganda.

Use of Mud Stoves in South Sudan

The stoves have now begun to spread their usefulness to other groups of people in Africa as well. Refugees from South Sudan are often forced to venture into the forests for firewood or charcoal to prepare meals, which is risky due to the prevalent violence in the region. Unfortunately, they are left with little choice if they are to survive. However, they were introduced to a newer and more efficient method of cooking by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

ADRA’s mission was to provide necessary supplies to the refugees escaping South Sudan. One of the items provided to the refugees was the mud stove developed in Uganda. Because the stove emits a smaller amount of smoke than a conventional stove and minimizes the number of trees to be cut down to collect fuel, they became incredibly popular. Members of ADRA were able to give demonstrations and trained women and children on its usage. These projects have shown that mud stoves are a useful and efficient way to provide a cheap way to cook food as well as fight deforestation in Uganda and other parts of Africa.

Aditya Daita
Photo: Pixabay

How Simple Cooking Stoves in Uganda Are Helping People EatUganda, an East African country that Winston Churchill once referred to as the “pearl of Africa,” is growing fast, with a population of about 34.5 million. The country has a rainy season and a dry season, and those climate conditions lead many Ugandans to be farmers. However, Uganda is facing a massive problem with deforestation, which in turn can cause uncertain weather patterns. People, who rely on cutting down trees for firewood to cook food in stoves in Uganda, partly cause this deforestation problem. However, a man named Badru Kyewalyanga has created a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable stove.

The Problem

Deforestation in Uganda poses many concerns for the population. With only 10% of Uganda’s population receiving electricity, the only option to create energy to cook food for many people is to cut down trees and burn firewood. The effects of wood-burning stoves in Uganda are detrimental to the population. In fact, Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority predicts that Uganda’s forests will disappear in less than 20 years if the current conditions do not change.

Deforestation creates irregular weather patterns, which can lead to intense droughts and heavy floods during different times of the year. In May 2020, floods affected thousands of people, destroying schools, a hospital, roads and power lines. Irregular weather patterns and storms leave many people without homes, schools to attend and electricity to cook food and conduct other daily activities. This contributes to the issue of poverty in Uganda, as more than 21% of Ugandans live in poverty. The irregular and extreme weather also causes high rates of crop failure in Uganda, which affects farmers who hope to earn money and plant food to feed their families. In the Rwenzori Mountains, floods left soil loose and unfarmable. Since many Ugandans have low incomes and cannot afford many basic necessities, the few crops that they harvest sell for money to pay for schooling for children and other essentials, leaving many people hungry as a result. Additionally, many women in Uganda have respiratory issues due to indoor air pollution from typical wood-burning stoves.

The Solution

After witnessing all the problems that traditional stoves in Uganda were causing, Kyewalyanga was determined to create a solution. He developed a stove using mud, water and straw, all of which are abundant in Uganda. The stove is essentially free to make and easy to build. To make a stove, Kyewalyanga forms the ingredients into small balls and attaches them together around a matooke tree, a common plant in Uganda which is much like a banana tree. As the mud hardens into a chimney, ventilation pockets and combustion chambers, the trunk of the tree rots away, thus forming an oven.

Kyewalyanga’s energy-saving stove reduces the amount of wood needed to cook food by 50%. However, the stove not only helps to reduce the number of trees that people must cut down, but it also provides the population with a sustainable alternative to traditional stoves in Uganda that cause respiratory illnesses and problems among farmers. A woman who cooks for her family of six people described how the smoke-filled walls of her kitchen caused health problems and how she hopes that Kyewalyanga’s stove will help her “get rid of [her] respiratory illness.” Since 2017, Kyewalyanga has created 100 stoves, but he hopes to develop many more in the future to combat deforestation and provide a more healthy lifestyle for the inhabitants of Uganda.

Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Clean Cooking Technology
Wood-based cooking harms the health of humans and the environment. KopaGas is one of many social enterprises tackling this problem by transitioning Tanzanian families to a clean cooking technology that is gas-based rather than wood-based through an innovative pay-as-you-go business model.

Imagine that a family is cooking dinner in the kitchen. They put charcoal into the stove and water for stew begins to boil. As the water heats, thick, grey smoke from the stove fills the room, the family’s lungs and the surrounding forest. In Tanzania, 96 percent of the population still uses dirty fuel sources like charcoal and firewood for cooking purposes. This has a harmful impact on respiratory health and the country’s ecology.

Effects of Wood-Based Cooking

Cooking with charcoal and firewood is comparable to exposing oneself to the smoke of 400 cigarettes per hour. Such air contamination contributes to roughly 4.3 million deaths per year worldwide. In Tanzania, respiratory infections are the second leading cause of death after malaria. In addition to devastating health effects, the resulting smoke causes ecological damage, particularly deforestation. A shocking 55 percent of the global wood harvest, representing 9 percent of primary energy supply, stems from traditional woodfuels.

To add to this, most wood-burning stoves are inefficient. Around 85 to 90 percent of the energy content of wood that people use for cooking becomes lost through the process of combustion. Such inefficiency means that people need to cut down more trees to satisfy the demand for woodfuel.

KopaGas as a Solution

Scientists Sebastian Rodriguez-Sanchez and Andron Mendes sought to address these health and environmental challenges head-on by creating clean cooking technology. In 2015, Rodriguez-Sanchez and Mendes co-founded KopaGas. The enterprise uses proprietary technology to help Tanzanian families transition to gas-based cooking.

Households pay an upfront fee of $6.50 to receive a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cooking kit. Families pay for the gas through a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model via mobile phone payment. A smart meter that attaches to the LPG cooking kit measures gas consumption feeding back into the mobile application. Transparent information allows families to understand consumption patterns which can help return control over personal finances.

KopaGas’ innovation is revolutionary not because it utilizes clean cooking methods, but rather because it makes gas-cooking affordable through the PAYG system. Rodriguez-Sanchez told Reuters that the PAYG model needs to prove itself at a large scale to attract greater levels of investment. However, KopaGas is already gaining early financial support from the Acumen Fund, HRSV, Saisan Co. and DEG / KFW.

In January 2020, the U.K.-based holding company, Circle Gas Limited, acquired KopaGas’ PAYG technology. The company aims to expand access to technology across Sub-Saharan Africa, where 900 million people have yet to transition to modern and clean cooking fuels. Further expansion will then move into East Africa where the focus of 2020 is in Kenya.

Innovating Clean Cooking

While KopaGas is attempting to transition households from woodfuel-based cooking to gas-cooking, others are taking completely different approaches. One example is ServedOnSalt that emerged in collaboration with the DTU Skylab_FoodLab, a Food System Change laboratory that Roberto Flore founded and leads. The ServedOnSalt project developed a battery using solar energy, salt and water to create a cheap and clean-powered cooking stove. KopaGas,  ServedOnSalt and other social enterprises within the clean cooking technology space are fundamentally transforming cooking practices in developing areas. These innovations are improving the health of humans and the planet.

– Kate McGinn
Photo: Flickr

Burn design lab
Cookstove visionary Peter Scott initially started Burn Design Lab (BDL) in 2010. After growing concerned about the deforestation issue in Africa, Scott became determined to develop the world’s best cookstoves. With parts from Bob Powell’s metal shop Meadow Creature and a workplace in Vashon’s Sheffield Building, BDL was ready to expand and test new designs. In 2013, Paul Means joined BDL as Research & Testing Manager, and between 2013-2016, a natural draft wood stove—which would become the Kuniokoa—came to be. By 2015, Peter Scott had left BDL to work with Burn Manufacturing Company to create a charcoal-burning stove. Now under Mean’s leadership, BDL has expanded its partnerships to Kenya, the Philippines, Guatemala and Ghana.

Burn Design Lab’s Process

Over time, BDL has established a detailed iterative approach to its development process. Instead of a hard step-by-step process of stages, the group has adopted more of a cyclical process. One cycle consists of conceptual design, computer-aided design, prototype fabrication, user research and laboratory and field testing. After a cycle, testing results and user input then goes back into the process to further improve the design. An iterative approach makes versioning easier and guarantees every step. Though this process may seem lengthy and repetitive, it offers a rapid turnaround and is easily adaptable. With this plan in mind, BDL has been very successful approaching many of its beneficent products.

Past Projects

In the past, Burn Design Lab has been quite successful executing different plans and solutions. In partnership with Burn Manufacturing Co. in Kenya, BDL developed in The Kunioka in 2016 for use in East Africa. With financial support from the U.S. Department of Energy and investments from Unilever and Acumen, this wood-burning stove revolutionized Kenya and Tanzania’s agriculture industry. Not only was this stove incredibly eco-friendly, but it was also cost-effective for farmers and plantation workers at only approximately $38.

In addition to its past projects such as The Kunioka, BDL has also been successful in its current endeavors. Right now, BDL has a partnership with the Burro Brand Ltc. to develop an improved shea roaster for the citizens of Ghana. The current process for roasting shea kernels is very unsustainable and has many health consequences. BDL and Burro have worked through many design and testing iterations to produce the best product for utilization. The goals of the project include reducing wood fuel consumption by 40 percent and reducing carbon emissions by 90 percent. As one can see, BDL has worked tirelessly to produce cookstoves that are both sustainable and secure.

Lasting Impact

Burn Design Lab has created a profound solution to a global problem. According to National Geographic, some three billion people cook with open or barely contained fires, leading to many negative consequences such as smoke inhalation. Other health concerns that people associate with this cooking style are respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease and lung cancer. As a matter of fact, open cooking fires produce about 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour. Sadly, those in low and middle-income countries must resort to this as they do not have easy access to reliable and sustainable energy.

BDL has made it its mission to design clean-burning cookstoves that release fewer emissions and require less fuel. With support and determination, Burn Design Lab is saving lives, promoting economic empowerment in developing nations and fighting deforestation.

–  Srihita Adabala
Photo: Flickr

Globally, more than 3 billion people still rely on open fire to cook their meals. This means that nearly half of the world’s population does not have access to sustainable fuel for cooking meals or cleaning water to make it potable. To combat this, many in the developed world have sought to popularize sustainable fuel sources for cooking, such as solar cookers.

Benefits of Using Solar Cookers

Solar cookers work by converting sunlight into energy that can be used to cook food. They provide a plethora of economic, environmental and social advantages over other methods of food preparation. For example, many solar cookers are cheaper than traditional ovens, so using solar cookers can be beneficial economically. In addition, families that use solar cookers do not have to forage for materials to make traditional fires, which can be a time-intensive activity. Solar cookers provide many social and health benefits as well. It is not uncommon for biomass in fires to contain animal dung and residue from crops; when burned, substances like this can lead to a condition known as Indoor Air Pollution (IAP), which has a slew of negative health consequences. Mexico is an example of the dangers of IAP- the country’s reliance on hard fuels is estimated to be responsible for around 15,000 deaths via inhalation and ingestion of toxic particulates.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of solar cookers, however, is the fact that they do not release carbon dioxide, which is one of the main causative factors of climate change. Given this, greater usage of solar cookers around the world will almost surely reduce the global carbon footprint, which will result in a healthier, cleaner environment around the world.

NGOs Working to Expand Implementation of Solar Cookers

The clear upside of solar cookers has resulted in the formation of multiple organizations that exist to advocate on behalf of the global implementation of solar cookers. These organizations have done work all over the world, including countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. Two such organizations are Solar Household Energy (SHE) and Solar Cookers International (SCI). SHE manufacturers solar cookers and also implements field projects to raise awareness about the benefits of using solar cookers. The solar cookers that SHE distributes last between five and 10 years and cost around $25, half of which is paid by the organization. SCI is another organization that works with local governments and NGOs, as well as the U.N., to advocate for solar cookers and poverty reduction. Through advocacy, research and capacity building, SCI has contributed to more than 6 billion solar-cooked meals. The organization prides itself on making change both at the ground level and at the policy level.

Conclusion

Everything said, cooking is a necessity for everyone; as such, it is important that efforts be made to ensure that cooking practices are safe, environmentally responsible, and affordable. As detailed above, there has been good progress made towards attaining these goals recently, and this good work is sure to continue in the near future.

– Evan Williams
Photo: Flickr

Cooking FuelFinding a reliable and clean source of cooking fuel in developing countries is a persistent obstacle for poor households. From using animal dung in East Asia to wood and charcoal in Africa, the simple process of cooking varies greatly in both safety and reliability across the world. Adverse health effects from household smoke have encouraged governments to provide affordable and cleaner options for cooking fuel.

Cooking Fuel in Developing Countries

The youngest and most vulnerable in the developing world are most likely to benefit from cleaner cooking fuels. Since indoor air pollution is most prevalent with the extremely poor — those living on less than $1 a day — providing cleaner options for cooking has disproportionately positive health effects for them.

Traditionally, coal and biomass have been the primary sources of cooking fuel in developing countries and have been particularly damaging in countries that lack access to other viable options. Unhealthy levels of air pollution in homes lead to premature deaths every year. The prime culprit is smoke from coal and wood in poorly ventilated kitchens.

Convenience Over Safety

Until recently, however, convenience has trumped health and environmental concerns. Despite recent efforts to modernize energy use in the developing world, the number of people reliant on solid fuels, such as wood, is expected to grow to 2.7 billion by 2030. Although the adverse health effects of indoor air pollution contribute to 2.6 million deaths per year, there has been major resistance from people accustomed to their traditional way of cooking.

Established types of cooking fuel in developing countries, if not healthy or environmentally friendly, are hard to usurp as the primary source for energy use.  Both India and Brazil have approached the problem through promoting liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) usage but from distinctly different angles.

LPG in India

For decades India has subsidized cleaner energy sources such as LPG as an incentive to transition homes from less healthy options, such as wood, charcoal and animal dung.

Although subsidies have been historically inefficient, India has made progress in providing affordable and clean fuel to households through a biometric identification system. Since 2016, India has provided 34 million households with stoves and a free cylinder of LPG.

India has focused on targeted, subsidized fuel for those needing the greatest assistance. In 2012, in response to increasing graft and black market activity, India initiated a Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme of LPG.  The subsidization program has only been possible due to access to individual bank accounts and biometric identifiers; which allows the government access to household’s income levels in order to better target various need requirements.

LPG in Brazil

Brazil, on the other hand, has focused on the market development of the LPG gas industry and promoting education to consumers. Specifically, the government’s approach to promoting efficient and healthy means of cooking has evolved into selling the public on the beneficial qualities of LPG. Rather than subsidized fuel or free LPG cylinders, Brazil has relied on educating Brazilian’s on the use of new stoves, as well as providing a free trial period.

To get accustomed to the new fuel, LPG cylinders and accompanying stoves were offered on a short-term, three-day trial. Once completed, households involved were allowed to either purchase the new cooking equipment or return it. The majority of consumers felt comfortable enough with the more modern cookware to transition to LPG usage. Direct experience with the product, instead of handouts, has been the impetus in Brazil for creating a market for cleaner cooking fuels and stoves.

Allowing poor households to see the benefits firsthand has directly created a demand for LPG. This approach of consumer development, rather than India’s direct cash transfer, could be replicated to provide cleaner cooking fuel in developing countries still reliant on wood, dung and charcoal.

The number of households who opt for cleaner and safer cooking fuel in developing countries will vary in approach. It depends on the level of poverty in the country and the policies the government, and the taxpayers, are willing to commit to.

Reducing deaths from indoor air pollution and providing a reliable source for cooking should be the ultimate policy goal of modernizing indoor fuel consumption. After all, making dinner in the developing world should not come at the price of smoke filled kitchens and declining health.

– Nathan Ghelli
Photo: Flickr