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

The majority of the developing world uses open fires and biomass stoves to cook their food and purify water. These methods are not efficient, requiring constant fuel for the fire to burn. In addition, the emissions are unclean and often cause health hazards for the women and children who breathe them in regularly.

These cooking methods waste valuable time, with the user having to constantly seek out fuel. The cookstoves and open fires further waste time when the user becomes sick more often because of the dirty fumes.

Open fires and burning biomass also release fumes like black carbon and methane into the environment, which speeds up climate change and increases air pollution.

This release of chemicals has taken its toll on its users. About four million premature deaths occur annually from the smoke exposure.

Smoke related illnesses include child pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cataracts (which lead to blindness), heart disease and even low birth weight (for the babies of mothers who intake smoke regularly during pregnancy).

Luckily, the world’s change makers are acknowledging the importance of this issue, and organizations are being created to solve it.

Colorado University has teamed up with Baylor University to create a clean burning, fuel efficient cooking stove that is affordable and will last five years. They have financial backing from Shell Foundation, which is willing to grant $25,000,000 to make 10,000,000 of the clean stoves if the project is successful.

Top Third Ventures Ltd. has studied the traditional, developing world stove, and has used this model to create a fuel efficient, clean-burning innovation that maintains cultural similarities. The stove has the same physics as the classic “three stone fire,” but it involves less work to operate and produces less smoke.

While some organizations are focusing on the creation of the stove innovations, others are stressing the implementation of these stoves into poor households.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has adopted the ambitious goal of ensuring 100 million households are provided with a clean cookstove by the year 2020. They are promoting the use of stoves and fuels that are affordable, sustainable and culturally acceptable among users.

The group has prioritized six countries, Bangladesh, China, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda, to start enabling market growth so households can obtain a stove, and producers in the country can supply them.

With the combined forces of science teams creating cleaner cooking technology and logistic teams focusing on the new stoves’ circulation, the possibility of a cleaner, healthier future is well on its way.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: Energy for Development, Clean Cookstoves, Baylor, Indie Go Go
Photo: Carbon Finance for Cookstoves

Over half of the world’s population is breathing in extremely polluted air every time they cook. The World Health Organization estimates that around three billion people cook and heat their homes with open fires and stoves with improper fumigation techniques.

The Global Burden of Disease Study (2010) found and documented the effects of various diseases around the world and found in effect that smog and pollution from cooking campfires is one of the top five causes of deaths around the globe every year. Such cases amount to upwards of four million deaths a year, which are more than the deaths from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had the Clean Cookstoves Support Act introduced on March 10, 2014. Collins introduced the bill saying that, “It can be done relatively quickly and inexpensively and would improve lives, empower women and combat pollution around the world.” According to information provided from the senator’s official website, over half of the world’s population cooks over unsafe and unclean cookstoves. The Clean Cookstoves Support act, co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durban (D-Ill.), is designed to help implement the utilization and acquisition of clean cookstoves for those in developing countries.

The act requires that the Secretary of State work closely with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and help to insure that the Alliance’s goals are coming to fruition. The Global Alliance was founded by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United Nations with the goal of getting clean burning and effective cookstoves into 100 million homes by 2020. The Act also requires that several federal departments such as the State Department, the Department of Energy and others commit to securing funding for the Global Alliances for Clean Cookstoves mission. Sen. Collin’s website states that over $125 million dollars has already been committed for the Alliance.

The environmental impact from the burning of unclean fuel in stoves that are not working properly is also extremely hazardous to the world as a whole. Studies cited in the act (and by leading scientific authorities) show that cookstoves are contributing to a quarter of black carbon emissions around the world. Also, the average family uses around two tons of fuel in traditional cookstoves, which contributes to the deforestation of regions that can ill afford to lose precious natural resources. Replacing these cookstoves with more technologically up-to-date versions will save millions of lives as well as reduce the harmful impact that they exact on the environment every single day.

The Clean Cookstoves Support Act is an example of the type of progressive, forward-thinking legislation that can help those in need as well as benefit the entire globe with a relatively simple fix. The little act of making sure that a stove runs more efficiently and allows people all around the world to cook without endangering their health is a truly remarkable and wonderful thing.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: WHO, GovTrack, Susan Collins, NPR, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
Photo: UN Foundation

julia roberts
When people think of the needs of the hungry in the developing world, their supply of proper cookware is not always the first thing that comes to mind. More common are thoughts of the need for immediate food supplies and ways to promote agriculture. However, there is a definite need in the developing world for proper cookware. Estimates say three billion people around the world rely on open-air stoves, an inefficient and sometimes dangerous way of cooking food.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was organized in 2010 by then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and the United Nations Foundation to raise awareness about the challenges that so many face in cooking their food from open-air flames. In 2011, Julia Roberts joined the Alliance as a global ambassador and became a key spokesperson for the group. In a statement soon after her decision, she said, “I was inspired to join the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves because its core mission is saving lives – especially children’s lives.”

It is believed that two million people a year are killed due to the smoke coming from the cooking done on unclean cookstoves. Up to a million of those killed are children. In the necessity for parents to provide for their children they inadvertently put them at risk. This shows the necessity for governments in the developed world to step in, and shows the necessity of groups like the Borgen Project to encourage this type of support.

Fires cooked over open-air flames take the terrible human toll that have resulted in the millions of deaths around the world. They also take a toll on the environment, raising concerns about the future of humans on this planet. In order to supply these open-air flames, the people using them are contributing to the global deforestation problem. The flames from the stoves, just as they release carcinogens that can harm the cooks, can also release dangerous greenhouse gases that harm the environment. Studies have shown that fires contribute to emissions of methane, carbon monoxide and black carbon.

The goal of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is to change the landscape of cooking in the developing world by 2020. Goals have been set to establish 100 million clean stoves by that year. Julia Roberts describes the “effective solutions, which can save lives, improve livelihoods… and combat climate change.”

This is a fight worth taking up, one that could have large impacts on the global stage. With more efficient stoves, the health costs spent combating smoke-related diseases could be used towards the upkeep of a productive family. As more families have these funds freed up, a significant impact on the global economy could follow.

Human lives being lost in the search for a good meal should not be the case anywhere in the world. The meals people cook everyday at home are an unheralded luxury we enjoy. If citizens take the time at every meal to think of how they can make it easier for those abroad to healthily enjoy their meals, it may contribute to a global effort to save lives.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: Kiva, Clean Cookstoves, Guardian, PBS
Photo: TV Guide