Clean stoves could save millions in developing world

It’s not as obvious as the pollution that’s caused by industrialization, but smoke and toxins from cooking fires are killing millions of women worldwide.

And now a new initiative, announced yesterday by Hillary Clinton, aims to replace open fires and dirty stoves with a cleaner version.

“Today we can finally envision a future in which open fires and dirty stoves are replaced by clean, efficient and affordable stoves and fuels all over the world – stoves that still cost as little as $25,” said Clinton at the annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

“By upgrading these dirty stoves, millions of lives could be saved and improved. Clean stoves could be as transformative as bed nets or vaccines.”

The UN Foundation-led Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves aims to have 100 million households adopt clean cookstoves by 2020, with the long-term goal of universal adoption. Clinton yesterday pledged over $50 million over the next five years.

Half of the world’s population relies on indoor fires and stoves, says the alliance, causing severe health, economic, and environmental consequences. More than 400,000 people in India are believed to die each year from toxic fumes inhaled while cooking on open fires.

Indeed, the World Health Organization considers smoke from dirty stoves to be one of the five most serious health risks in poor, developing countries.

The announcement was short on detail about the stoves themselves. They’re likely to involve a switch from charcoal – which requires large quantities of wood – to other forms of biomass or solar power.

The first stage is to improve existing designs, said Clinton.

“There are already some good stoves out there, but we can make them much more durable, efficient, and affordable, and scale up production to reach a mass market,” she said. “With the right advances, new stoves could even use their own wasted heat to produce electricity that powers smoke-clearing fans, mobile phones, and even household lights.”