El Salvador HotPotTM Program
by Camille McCarthy
A project of Solar Household Energy, Inc.
In Partnership with El
Salvador partners Feed the Children and ACUA
November 2006 -- December
Undulating mountain ranges dotted with extinct volcanoes, lush, fertile,
flat lowlands, and brilliant, blue Pacific waters that lap sparkling, white
beaches epitomize the beauty of El Salvador. Yet underneath the beauty, the
country is suffering a social and environmental emergency. Today more than
36% of its people live in poverty, the fertility rate is 3.58 children per
woman, and the average population growth rate is 2% per annum. El Salvador
is the most densely populated country in the Americas and the 41st most
populated country in the world, with 282 people per square kilometer. As a
result there are extreme pressures on El Salvador's natural resources making
it one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet.
A significant contributor to the country's environmental degradation is
deforestation: El Salvador has experienced a 94% forest cover loss, has a
4.6% annual deforestation rate, and underground water table levels have been
falling one meter per year. A key reason for this level of deforestation is
the common practice of cooking with wood which approximately 65% of the
population relies on.
Cooking with wood not only stresses the environment, but women and children
as well. Women typically cook inside small, closed rooms, which frequently
lack windows. Thus women, girls, and young children spend hours every day
inhaling toxic smoke. The Salvadoran Ministry of Public Health reports
respiratory infections are the top cause of clinic visits for women and
children, and the prevalence of respiratory infections among the general
public is 42.3%. Additionally, many women and children are severely burned
by accidents with cooking fires.
Furthermore, domestic responsibilities including procurement of cooking fuel
are shouldered by women and girls. Due to the high deforestation they are
forced to venture on 3-4 hour foraging trips up to five times a week,
consuming time that otherwise could be spent in income-generating activities
or, in the case of girls, attending school. This practice takes a
significant physical toll, creating head, neck, and back problems. Where
wood no longer exists, there is a significant economic toll as families must
purchase imported firewood and/or gas. The average rural family can spend up
to 25% of their monthly income on those commodities.
Benefits of Solar Cooking
HotPots in use during
Feed the Children, El Salvador, November 2006
While cooking with the sun cannot entirely replace other means of cooking,
in many climates it can significantly reduce use of traditional and
unsustainable fuels such as wood, which is associated with deforestation,
respiratory diseases, glaucoma, and burns. By reducing reliance on firewood
(and the foraging that its collection often requires), solar cooking
provides greater time and energy for other activities. Also, unlike cooking
over a fire, charcoal, or gas stove, which requires frequent stirring to
keep food from burning, solar ovens need an adjustment every hour or two,
according to the path of the sun. Furthermore, the energy source is
inexhaustible and costs nothing.
There have been numerous solar cooking projects in various developing
countries in the past few decades that have demonstrated the advantages of
solar cooking, particularly to poor communities: reduced use of fuel wood,
gas, and charcoal; reduced spending on fuels; decreased exposure to smoke,
ash, and flames (and associated health impacts); and less time and energy
spent collecting fuel. In an evaluation of 180 households in a Somalian
refugee camp in Ethiopia, for instance, 94.3% of households used their solar
cooker in combination with other cooking methods and exclusive use of
wood-burning stoves dropped from 75% among these households to only 3.3%
afterwards [ "Lasting Impacts of Solar Cooker Projects," Melanie Szulczewski,
Ph. D., June 2006].
Solar cooked plantains,
rice, and casserole
ACUA, El Salvador, November 2006
In collaboration with in-country organization partners, Solar Household
Energy is implementing a two-year initiative to introduce solar cooking to
communities in El Salvador with the goal of reducing pressure on the
environment and increasing the quality of life. The project will
An understanding of the long-term potential for reducing deforestation and
carbon dioxide emissions in El Salvador;
A decrease in health problems associated with respiratory infections,
burns, and head, neck, and back problems;
A decrease in gastrointestinal diseases (by teaching water pasteurization);
More time for women and girls to participate in activities other than fuel
wood gathering and cooking that are educational or income-generating; and
An increase in household savings.
In total, the initiative will focus on eight communities, with a total
population of approximately 15,000 people, and distribute 800 "HotPot" solar
Feed the Children works in five communities in El Salvador to
implement programs that provide basic necessities of food, medicine, and
clothing, as well as development programs to address root causes, including
those that focus on nutrition, agriculture, and gender equity.
Asociacion Comunitaria Unida por el Agua y la Agricultura (ACUA) has
programs in three communities to promote environmental conservation through
the innovative adoption and adaptation of technology to improve food
production, protect water resources, and reduce health risks. The
organization works to promote gender equality, citizen participation,
community empowerment, and a holistic balance between humans and nature.
The communities with which Feed the Children and ACUA work are relatively
close to the capital, San Salvador, in the departments (states) of La
Libertad and San Salvador, along the broader coastal region of the country.
They have been greatly impacted economically and socially by the civil
conflict in El Salvador. They have also been subject to drought, famine, and
flooding. The majority of the families in these communities practice
subsistence farming or fishing, and earn money working as vendors, peddlers,
domestic workers, or coffee crop harvesters. However, unemployment is high
and household incomes range from $120 -- 250 per month.
We expect that at the end of the project 800 women from these communities
will have mastered solar cooking skills and will be consistently using solar
as means of supporting the cooking needs of their families, a total of
approximately 4,500 community residents. This will result in reduced use of
wood and gas, fewer health problems, and money saved or reallocated from
wood and gas costs
The El Salvador initiative is directed by Camille McCarthy, Solar
Household Energy's Director of Latin American Programs. She holds an MA in
International Development with an emphasis on the nexus between environmental
and women's issues. Due to her Peace Corps service in El Salvador, she has
highly relevant experience with sustainable development, environmental
protection, and women's empowerment. Additionally, Camille has worked with
foreign governmental ministries and international NGOs.
Trainee presents her ideas
about the HotPot
to her peers at the ACUA training session.
Salvador, November 2006
Help us raise $50,000 to implement this program.
To donate now please
go to: www.she-inc.org/contribute.php
specify that this donation is for our El Salvador program)