It’s not flashy, it’s not high-tech, it’s not even expensive, but there is a tool that can vastly improve the health and environment of people and communities in India and throughout the developing world. It is a clean burning stove. Far too many people, mainly women and girls, spend hours every day cooking with inefficient stoves, breathing in toxic fumes released by burning wood or kerosene. The effects on health include asthma, lung cancer, respiratory diseases, and even pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2 million people die from the use of dirty stoves every year worldwide — twice as many as malaria. And then there are the clouds of soot, known as black carbon, from the fires that make their way to the Himalayas and contribute to melting glaciers, as recently reported by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi.
This past September, international development leaders announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves at the Clinton Global Initiative. It is a public-private partnership that intends to have clean-burning stoves in 100 million homes by 2020. The U.S. will contribute $50 billion towards the Alliance over five years. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the New York Times, calls this a “cross-cutting issue” affecting health, the environment, and women’s status in much of the world.
In 2009, the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy put forth an initiative to provide rural households with energy-efficient cookstoves that are designed for local usage/habits, and are affordable, and easy to maintain. A report by the Centre for Development Finance and the World Resources Institute, called Power to the People, analyzes, from an investment angle, several companies that produce energy-efficient stoves. Currently the most promising company is First Energy. It manufactures a portable cookstove fueled by pellets made from agricultural waste, with a small amount of kerosene necessary to light the pellets. It is a positive design in that does not rely on firewood, the collection of which is time-consuming and at times life-threatening to the women who traditionally are the ones sent to collect wood. First Energy’s stove is one of the most expensive of the cookstoves looked at in the report, at just under $25.