Science Wednesday: Cleaner Cookstoves, Countless Benefits

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By Becky Fried

Imagine a technology that can help mitigate the fourth leading cause of death in the world.

Now, imagine that that same technology can also reduce green house gas emissions globally, reduce the risk of violence and abuse of women in developing countries, slow the rate of deforestation, improve respiratory and lung health, and stimulate local economies. Imagine that the technology can reduce tribal conflicts and increase the ability of young girls to go to school.

Finally, imagine that it is cheap and easy to use.

The technology is a clean cookstove—a replacement for the traditional fuel wood, kerosene, or charcoal burning stoves that millions of women and girls in developing nations use every day in poorly ventilated homes.

In September of this year, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership aimed at bringing cleaner, more efficient stoves to 100 million homes in the developing world by 2020.

Last week, I traveled to Ethiopia with Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development at EPA to get an on-the-ground understanding of the importance of the cookstoves issue and to talk with the people whose lives are being impacted the most.

Some homes we visited had traditional wood-burning stoves. Others had cleaner stoves that ran on alternative fuels like ethanol. The differences were stark.

One mother, whose small one-room home housed a traditional fuel wood-burning stove complained that it was difficult to breathe. She lives there with her three children, under constant exposure to soot and smoke in a poorly ventilated room. The scene was typical of most households that rely on a fuel-wood burning stove for daily cooking needs.

We stopped to chat with another local woman whose small condominium contains a cleaner, stove that runs on ethanol. She admitted that since using the newer technology, her breathing has improved, her eyes have stopped stinging, and she has experienced significantly reduced symptoms of her primary health burden:HIV.

A cleaner cookstove is a sustainable solution to an integrated problem. It’s a simple, elegant way to make significant improvements across many sectors simultaneously: social, economic, environmental, and health. After witnessing cleaner cookstoves in action last week, the effort to implement sustainable appropriate technologies seems more important than ever.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development