A humanitarian approach to cooking

Published 23rd May 2016 by Rachel Hunter

Access to fuel and energy is often left out of humanitarian response planning and implementation, with dire consequences for the most vulnerable communities as well as lost opportunities to cut fuel costs over time, enable income-generating activities and develop local sustainable energy markets.The humanitarian community is convening this week for the World Humanitarian Summit and they will hear about this major gap in response and how a different approach could improve this situation.

Carbon Clear and Practical Action’s Darfur Low Smoke Stoves project will be presented at the Summit as an example of a project that has been successfully scaled up, incorporates multiple innovations, and impacts several areas of sustainable development including climate finance, women’s empowerment, health, and environment.

In North Darfur, Sudan most households use wood or charcoal to cook. Women and children are often the worst affected by this smoke as they spend most of their time indoors and several hours per day cooking.

Smoke from cooking indoors on charcoal and wood burning stoves causes more deaths globally each year than malaria. For millions of households across the developing world there is no alternative to cooking on the equivalent of a charcoal BBQ inside the home.

Typically, women usually purchase 1 bag of charcoal (2.75 kg) and a small bundle of wood (1.5 kg) daily. This can amount to up to about 40% of a family’s daily income.

How the project works: real life examples

For Masher, buying an alternative cookstove is not a simple matter. She has to single-handedly support her family, through small daily trades of food items. This means that she doesn’t have the money to buy a new stove and can only afford to buy fuel on a daily basis. For women like Masher, the Darfur Low-Smoke Stoves project provides a solution. The project uses carbon finance to fund a non-for-profit micro-loan scheme that is operated by local women in El Fasher. Micro-loan schemes are useful development tools in areas of the world such as North Darfur, where access to credit, especially for women is almost non-existent.

Hawa Hassan says that she received the new cookstove through the project two and half years ago, and one of the positive outcomes is the significantly reduced time when cooking meals. Hawa finds LPG inexpensive compared to wood or charcoal. Carbon Clear and Practical Action estimate that on average, using wood and charcoal costs a household circa US $17 per month and using LPG to cook costs circa US $11 per month. The savings on fuel can cover the initial stove and canister cost within 8-10 months. Hawa has more free time as she no longer needs to collect fuel or spend time tending to the cookstove. Her free time is used to make and sell handicrafts, earning her an extra income.

Another stove beneficiary says “I received the LPG stove around 6 months ago and even though we were using LPG gas before, this stove is on instalment payments. We could not have afforded to pay 400 SDG (US $40) on the market, the monthly 30 SDG (US $3) makes it much more affordable and easier.”

One of the women who has been using the stoves delivered through the project is Randa Faudul Ali, who lives in the village of Kafut. “Cooking with wood meant that the whole house was full of smoke. It’s a house made of hay and inside it is completely black. I have serious eye problems as a result of the smoke – I was going blind because of the smoke. I think the LPG stove has saved my sight.”


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