Washington — In the central highlands of Afghanistan, local craftsmen are working with international engineers on a very demanding assignment. They are designing devices that will cook food, improve health, clean the air and save the forests.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is supporting the effort to produce several stove prototypes for testing in the process of developing a better device for cooking in the home. Methods currently in use rely on burning wood or other organic fuels that expose people to dangerous levels of smoke inhalation every day as they cook family meals. Worldwide these cooking methods create both indoor and outdoor pollution, and the resulting respiratory problems lead to premature deaths estimated to exceed 1.6 million each year, according to UNEP.
UNEP reports that the health of the land is also at stake because the use of wood for cooking fuel is leading to rapid deforestation. At the rate Afghan forests are being cut down, UNEP estimates they’ll be gone in 30 years, for example.
Afghanistan is among the 10 countries with the most serious health and environmental problems related to cookstoves, according to UNEP.
This Afghanistan project is related to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which aims to bring cleaner cooking methods into 100 million homes by 2020. It is a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation, with $50 million in U.S. support and further resources contributed by a long list of donor nations, host governments and corporate partners.
The alliance aims to help 100 million homes adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020 to cut premature deaths linked to the respiratory problems resulting from smoke and soot inhalation.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton supports the clean cookstoves campaign. “We all know that cookstove smoke leads to twice as many deaths as malaria,” she said in a 2011 speech. “We all know the human, economic and environmental toll this takes on people, especially women and children, throughout the developing world.”
In Nigeria, the transition to cleaner cookstoves is starting with the fuel. Nigeria's National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) is backing the installation of an efficient microdistillery with the capacity to produce 1,000 liters of ethanol per day from local crops and crop wastes. Previous studies have determined that Nigerian households prefer alcohol as an alternative fuel.
NABDA is locating the microdistillery adjacent to cassava fields and cashew tree plantations, which will supply the plant material to be transformed into ethanol. Fuel production from local materials will provide a cheaper alternative to imported kerosene.
Locally produced ethanol will be used in the CleanCook stove, a safe and efficient clean-fuel stove that has been tested in Nigeria, Madagascar, Malawi, Kenya and Brazil. This model is also in use in rural and urban Ethiopian households.
NABDA is starting on a small scale with this project, but the goal is for it to be widely replicated, with multiple benefits: cleaner air and better health in homes, a new market for crop wastes, a new clean fuel source and a means to bring more stability to cassava prices.