Solar Household Energy: Solar cooking for economic development and environmental relief

Half of the world’s population relies on wood fires to cook.

Sculpture Garden Statue
Harare, Zimbabwe

T h e    C r i s i s

Dangers to Health

In many countries, women and young children spend hours a day in smoky cook houses. The biomass (wood, animal dung and crop residue) used as fuel gives off toxic smoke at about seven times the safe limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA).LINK   According to the WHO, every twenty seconds a person dies from this condition known as Indoor Air Pollution (IAP).LINK   IAP can lead to lung cancer, low birth rate, cataracts, bronchitis, TB, higher infant mortality and asthma as well as pneumonia and other respiratory infections which are the biggest killers of children under five years of age in the developing world.LINK 

In Guatemala City a woman who can no longer afford cooking fuel eats only bread and avocados.
-- Proyecto Genesis (NGO), Guatemala City, Guatemala
Smoke inhalation is not the only health risk. Women and children also suffer back and neck injuries from gathering and carrying fuel wood.LINK   Children often burn themselves by falling into cooking fires.LINK   The injuries and diseases caused by the use of cooking fires can only be relieved by introducing less labor-intensive and cleaner cooking methods.

Economic Hardship

Families who buy their cooking fuel can spend up to one-quarter of their income on wood or gas.LINK   Other families who forage for fuel must continually look further and further from home as fuel wood becomes more scarce. Foraging for fuel wood is a demanding task that reduces the time women and children have for school and profitable work. For example, in El Salvador some women and children spend 3 to 4 hours a day foraging for fuel wood up to 5 times a week.LINK   As securing energy requires more time or money, people’s quality of life will continue to decline.

Environmental Degradation

More than three billion people, half of the world’s population, rely on cooking fires according to the WHO.LINK   These fires are inefficient, release CO2 into the atmosphere and consume fuel at unsustainable levels. The percentage of fuel wood consumption in developing countries is astounding (see graph).LINK

Fuel wood as a Percentage of Energy Consumption in Africa      

Graph courtesy of Solar Cookers International     

Environmental degradation is a critical problem in Mali where "the desert is advancing 2.4 miles each year," says Gnibouwa Diassana, World Vision Mali. As Drissa Coulibaly, who lives in small village outside of Mopti in northern Mali, can attest the destruction of trees in sub-Saharan Africa is alarming: “When I was a child there were many trees that provided shade and fruit in our village. Today I can see far out into the desert.” 

Women in Ndeukou, Senegal walk a minimum of 2.5 miles a day in search of firewood.
-- Christine Danton, Former SHE Africa Program Director
Mr. Coulibaly’s statement is supported by research. Fuel wood consumption in Bamako, Mali grew from 600,000 tons in 1994 to about 1.2 million tons in 2000, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In an effort to slow this devastating trend, the government of Mali imposed a six-month ban on tree felling and the export of charcoal, in July 2004. This policy increased the price of wood and charcoal by up to 50 percent, putting enormous strain on household incomes.LINK   Lacking alternative fuels, people had no options.
----- Photos -----
“Smoky Kitchen” photo by Omar Marcera, Oaxaca, Mexico, 2005 (left)
“Barren Landscape” Nueva Concepción, El Salvador, 2005 (middle)
“Woman Carrying Fire Wood”, Guatemala (right)

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