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Cooking, not killing

January 2012
Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaWant to embed this video?
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The World Health Organization says this type of pollution causes nearly two million premature deaths each year."
An estimated three billion people - nearly half the world’s population - still use an open fire as the primary source of energy for cooking and heating.

But there’s a problem: the smoke.

“You have respiratory issues, lung disease, you’ve got pneumonia and you’ve got longer-term issues like cancer and heart disease as well that can result from exposure to indoor air pollution,” says Radha Muthiah, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

The World Health Organization says this type of pollution causes nearly two million premature deaths each year. That’s more than tuberculosis and three times as many as malaria.

Everline Kihulla is one of the people trying to do something about it. She works for TaTedo, which manufactures and sells so-called ‘clean cookstoves’ in Tanzania.

TaTedo’s stoves are made with clay liners, which along with other simple design features, emit far less smoke and pollutants. And they use a fraction of the fuel.

Kihulla crouches beside one of them: “This one we have improved it and it currently uses almost 50 percent compared to the traditional one,” she says. “So the charcoal consumption here is less compared to the traditional one.”

Another benefit is that these stoves are made locally.

A nearby workshop employs 21 people and churns out 400 to 500 stoves each month.

Each person follows a cookstove through every stage of production, from pottery to painting. This teaches each worker a variety of skills.

Producing locally also boosts the economy and keeps the costs down, but the price-point is still an issue.

Cookstoves start at about $6 (U.S.). That’s a lot of money for many families in developing countries.

But subsidizing the price, or even giving stoves away free with the help of aid agencies, doesn’t necessarily work.

“There’s something about, you know, having to allocate a portion of even your small wallet to something that ensures that you value that and use that, and so that’s what we’ve seen in some of the other models that are out there,” says Muthiah.

“The fact that yes, people don’t have that much money at all, but if they spend even a few cents a day, you know, towards that stove, that they actually value and use it much more.”

Sitting alone on the steps of her home in Dar es Salaam, Lillian Njuu stirs a large pot of stew, which rests on a clean stove that she has used for two years.

She feels the expense is worth it for the health of her family, and plans to buy another.

In addition, while the upfront cost to buy a clean cookstove is higher, the fuel costs are lower because it burns less.

That in turn has an environmental impact. Burning less charcoal or wood means there’s less deforestation, which has caused major problems like flooding in many countries.

“It’s one relatively simple intervention that has a multitude of impacts that can really address the development agenda within a particular country as well,” says Muthiah.

Now the challenge is to get clean stoves into enough homes to really make a difference.
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