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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

the_wonderbagThe Wonderbag is a revolutionary non-electric cooker with the capacity to change the way people cook around the world. The Wonderbag website describes the product as “a simple but revolutionary non-electric heat-retention cooker. It continues to cook food that has been brought to the boil by conventional methods for up to 12 hours without the use of additional fuel.”

The Wonderbag works by allowing the person cooking to heat any pot of food and then place the boiling pot into the bag and seal it. The initial heating can be done in any way whatsoever: on a stove in a modern kitchen, over a campfire or on a charcoal fire in a developing country’s village. The heat from the initial boiling keeps the food cooking inside the Wonderbag for eight to 12 hours.

The Wonderbag is portable and can be used anywhere. In addition to heating food, it can also be used as a cooler. All you have to do is freeze it and it will keep food cold for hours.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, inventor Sarah Collins said “The biggest killer in the world is indoor air pollution related diseases; over 4 million people die annually from cooking related fire diseases,” half of whom are under five years of age. Also, the burning of fuels causes hundreds of thousands of burns every year, according to the Wonderbag website.

Deforestation is a major problem around the world and is happening especially quickly in the developing world where they still use wood and charcoal as fuel and for the purposes of cooking. And by 2025, water shortages may affect up to two-thirds of the world’s population. In an interview with Climate Action, inventor Sarah Collins stated that: “The bag can reduce the amount of fossil fuels that people use for cooking by 90 percent.”

According to the Wonderbag website, the preparation of food can have a particularly damaging effect on the progress of women in developing countries. Preparing food can take hours, including the time spent gathering fuel. The use of the Wonderbag can free up several hours a day, allowing girls time to go to school and women time to do other work.

According to Climate Action, Collins says that through humanitarian work, she aims to get her product to “the people who live on a dollar a day in the developing world.” In the developing world, the bag can be used similarly to a slow cooker in a modern kitchen.

Finally, for each Wonderbag purchased by someone in the developed world, one will be donated to a family in the developing world, linking people all around the world to each other.

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: Wonderbag, Facebook, Huffington Post, Climat Action Programme
Photo: Flickr

UK_Study_proposes_fuel_bill_Solution

“Fuel poverty” is generally defined as spending more than 10% of income on energy bills. The numbers don’t make it seem like a crisis, but for half the world’s population, it is. Fuel poverty affects the health of millions of people.

An answer to this problem, according to a study in the United Kingdom, lies in access to renewable energy and more efficient methods of cooking.

Some countries, like South Africa, heavily rely on coal and other fossil fuels while other countries like India rely on wood. Inefficient burning of these resources causes heavy indoor air pollution of carbon monoxide (CO) and respiratory suspended particulate matter. In the 21 most affected countries, this has caused a 5% death and disease rate.

U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Strategic Planning and Policy Coordination Robert Orr said, “Energy is central to everything we are trying to achieve on the development side of the equation. There are 1.3 billion people who don’t have access to [modern] energy. If you hook them up to the most polluting, damaging forms of energy you are doing significant damage to the planet.”

Indeed, through inefficiently burning solid forms of fuel, lasting damage is done to the planet and the overall health of millions worldwide. The United Nations crafted, within their Millennium Development Goals, an “agenda for action.” The plan for improved energy efficiency involves cleaner and more efficient methods of cooking.

In India, through support from nongovernmental local associations, BP Energy India developed the “Oorja Stove.” It’s designed with a built-in fan that provides oxygen and eliminates smoke. It’s also fueled by agricultural waste, so it’s cheaper and uses much less kerosene.

“Independent research has indicated that the stove reduces CO by 71% and lowers suspended particulate matter by 34%. Other reporting suggests that biomass use would drop from 1.5 to 2 tons to 0.4 to 0.6 per family per year.”

And to add to its benefits, the sale of these stoves has actually encouraged and convinced women to take on entrepreneurial roles.

The Netherland’s equivalent to the Oorja stove is the Philip’s Smokeless Cookstove, which can burn any biomass, and gasifies it before burning so it doesn’t produce any smoke. The saucer beneath the cookstove contains the same kind of fan found in the Oorja stove.

Sustainability initiatives such as these are a stepping stone toward eradicating energy and fuel poverty.

Anna Brailow

Sources: Optimist World, Scientific American
Sources: Daily Record

Clean_Cookstoves
More than seven billion people live in this world. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, more than 3 billion risk experiencing serious respiratory infections and early death simply by cooking food and heating their homes using traditional wood stoves and solid fuels instead of clean biogas cookstoves.

The National Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Conference at Nairobi, Kenya in February was sponsored by the Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves (GACC). The conference drew attention to a simple fact: “Cooking is essential and should not kill,” noted Radha Muthiah, the executive director of GACC.

In Kenya alone, illnesses linked to cookstove smoke claim 15, 700 lives a year.  Yet 84 percent of the country continues to uses solid fuels for cooking.

Naturally, the most affected group are mothers – responsible for the bulk of the cooking – and children. Muthiah shared this tragic figure: 8,300 Kenyan children die annually due to respiratory infections attributed to this indoor air pollution.

The solution, though clear, poses a high cost.

Isaac Kalua, chairperson of the Kenya-based Green Africa Foundation, asserted, “We are losing people because of indoor [air] pollution and we therefore need urgent transition from traditional methods of cooking to modern technologies.” He continued by observing that the “affordability of the new technologies is a main challenge to providing clean fuels for all.” Such technologies include reliable, safe biogas cooking stoves, used in conjunction with biogas digesters.

Despite the cost, a number of donors in place who recognize the needless loss of life and are committed to helping Sub-Saharan Africa address this issue. During the February GACC conference, several organizations pledged their continuing financial support.  Benefactors include the UN Foundation, which has invested $3 million this year. GACC aims to provide reliable cookstoves and clean fuels globally.

The U.S. government awarded $1 million to three Kenyan organizations. This recent donation continues a lengthy history of support: since 2010, the US has contributed $125 million to GACC.

Though financial support is critical, outreach to those at risk equally addresses the harms of indoor pollution. These education efforts extend to women, as well as farmers. As the popularity of diary farmer grows in Sub-Saharan Africa, sources for biogas are expanding, According to SciDiv.Net, biogas “is a system that converts organic waste from livestock manure into energy for cooking” and heating. This system burns cleanly, because the biogas fuel does not release toxic emissions.

Consequently, biogas offers the opportunity to circumvent the health risks associated with traditional wood burning stoves.

Tradition, however, is formidable opponent. Mary Njoki, a rural Kenyan mother of five, shared this observation: “Biogas is good because it cooks fast but I still use wood fuel when it is the cold season to warm the house and cook food, since during this period, the heat produced by biogas is not sufficient.” Organizations world wide are committed to changing not only Mary Njoki’s mind – but the habits of millions of families heating their homes and cooking food for their children.

As Radha Muthiah observes, “using clean, efficient, and safe cookstoves” reduces fuel consumption, exposure to toxins and deforestation. And, most importantly, save millions of lives.

Ellery Spahr 

Sources: SciDevNet, Sci Dev Net, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
Photo: Burn Design Lab