From the New York Times, writer John Broder describes the new project.
Although the toxic smoke from the primitive stoves is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, and perhaps the second biggest contributor to global warming, after the industrial use of fossil fuels, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations.
The World Health Organization says that indoor air pollution caused by such cooking methods is the fourth greatest health risk factor in developing countries, after unclean water and sanitation, unsafe sex and undernourishment. The gathering of fuel is mainly done by women and children, millions of whom are exposed daily to dangers in conflict-torn regions. The need to forage for fuel also keeps millions of children out of school.
Although researchers have been aware of the health and environmental risks caused by carbon-belching indoor cookstoves for decades, there has been little focus on replacing them until recently, and it is not clear that the alliance’s high-profile initiative can pay the intended quick dividends. An estimated 500 million households depend on burning biomass for cooking and heating, some in the remotest places on earth, and it will not be easy to reach them with affordable and acceptable alternatives.
Even if the alliance’s goal were fully met, it would address no more than a fifth of the problem, according to its sponsors.
Stoves that are coming on the market for as little as $20 are 50 percent more efficient than current cooking methods, which are often simply open fires or crude clay domes, backers of the project say. A $100 model can capture 95 percent of the harmful emissions while burning far less fuel to produce the same amount of energy.
Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, one of the founding partners of the alliance, said that the plan was not simply to use donations to buy millions of new stoves and ship them out to the developing world.
Rather, he said, the group hopes to create an entrepreneurial model in which small companies manufacture or buy the stoves close to their markets, taking into account local fuel choices, food consumption patterns and methods of cooking. This microproject model is expected to provide business opportunities for women while reducing the fuel-gathering burden of women and children around the world.
“The idea is how to create a thriving global industry in cookstoves, driven by consumers’ desire to have these products at a price they can afford,” Mr. Detchon said.