Situated in central Tanzania, Dodoma is the country’s political capital and part-time seat of government. Smaller and less commercially developed than Dar es Salaam, Dodoma is surrounded by agricultural land and is the centre for Tanzania’s wine industry. However, in Chololo, a village near Dodoma, some women earn a living from brewing the local drink, scud, which is made by fermenting sorghum in sugar. These women are used to heating and cooking on open fires, though attempts have been made to persuade them to adopt rocket stoves instead. It takes two days of labour to install a rocket stove, which then uses less wood and channels any smoke out of the huts through a chimney. But though the stoves are cheap to build, some of Chololo’s women are not enamoured with them, complaining they don’t light as easily as a fire. If the stoves aren’t used regularly, they can take longer to heat and cook meals.
But the stoves have a vital advantage over open fires – they’re safe. Exposure to indoor air pollution from fires and traditional cooking stoves is estimated to cause between 1.9 million premature deaths each year. Many of these deaths are caused by respiratory infections such as lung disease and lung cancer in adults and pneumonia in children. An estimated 1.5 million children die of pneumonia annually and smoke from traditional cooking stoves is thought to double a child’s risk of contracting this illness. New research also suggests that second hand smoke could be a contributing factor to low birth weight and possibly increase the number of stillbirths among women.
Around 3 billion people worldwide use polluting and inefficient methods to cook their food. To raise awareness about the dangers and promote the use of clean stoves, a new public-private partnership has been formed this year called ‘The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’. The alliance was announced in September by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The public, private and non-profit organisations who make up the group have set the goal to establish 100 million homes with clean and efficient stoves by 2020.
The aim of promoting cooking methods like the rocket stove is not only to save lives, but also to improve livelihoods. In some countries girls spend as much as 20 hours per week collecting fuel and efficient stoves can save them from some of this labour. In addition, the manufacturing and building of clean stoves can be done locally, creating jobs. Finally, the promotion of efficient stoves is another element in the battle to combat climate change, since black carbon (a component of soot) is the second largest climate-changing emission. Hence, the presence of the Alliance at the Climate Change forum in Mexico tomorrow.
Back in Tanzania, the local NGO responsible for training villagers in stove building hopes that with more information raising awareness about health dangers from traditional cooking methods and with improved designs in the future, clean alternatives like the rocket stove will overcome cultural barriers and any final reluctance among women to abandon their hazardous old ways of cooking.