The Cookstove Conundrum
Thursday, April 26, 2012
By VIVEK DEHEJIA
Cooking the family meal can be a dangerous business for poor people in developing countries. According to a study by the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from “primitive household cooking fires” is the leading environmental cause of death in the world. In most rural homes, which lack electricity, a stove can be an open fire and the fuel as basic as wood, dried animal dung or agricultural residue, together known as “biomass” fuels. The result is nearly 2 million deaths a year, worldwide, almost as many as are caused by malaria and tuberculosis combined. What’s worse, cooking with biomass releases carbon dioxide and “black carbon” into the atmosphere and consequently is a significant contributor to climate change.
Could technology be the savior?
That seems to be the official view of the world’s development establishment. In September 2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the creation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. This is a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation, with support from the governments of many developed countries, including the United States, and multinational enterprises such as the investment bank Morgan Stanley and the oil producer Shell. And their ambitious goal, “100 by 20,” is to get 100 million homes to adopt clean stoves by the year 2020. They’ve even secured the actress Julia Roberts as a global ambassador.