"Cooking Shouldn't Kill"

Every year, two million people die from a killer in the kitchen: their cookstoves. A new report from the UN Foundation says the toxic smoke from these crude devices cookstoves can lead to child pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart disease, as well as burns and disfigurement. The report lays out a plan, but they're not looking for a handout. It argues that we can make life safer by making a buck.

Start with the market size... 3 billion people. That’s right, almost half the world’s population, primarily in Africa and Southern Asia, depend on rudimentary cookstoves and fires to prepare their daily meals. By the way, it’s not just their health that’s impacted. Local forests are pillaged for firewood that quickly burns in their fires, sending up black carbon into the atmosphere and causing ground-level and global warming pollution.

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Better, clean-burning cookstoves have been around since the 1980s when aid groups such as UNICEF and CARE-Kenya first started distributing them. Since the health and environmental problems are clear, why haven’t they been widely adopted? It hasn’t been for lack of trying. In India, the government subsidised 50% of the cost of eight million stoves and distributed throughout the country, but half the stoves laying unused. The problem is that there wasn’t enough marketing built in to the plan... and not enough was done to adapt the models to fit cooking styles.

So, instead of giving stoves away, a new model for bringing clean cookstoves to the masses is gaining steam: create a business opportunity. Aid organizations are now looking for opportunities to subsidize small businesses to market and service cookstoves in their own communities, with the hopes that it will enhance demand for products appropriate for the market that they’re in.

One way they’re already starting to employ workers is to send them on outreach and demonstration trips to rural communities. PBS Newshour showed the work of one organization doing just that--through theater. WATCH:

The UN Foundation Report, “Igniting Change” makes it clear that it’s not just demand that needs to be encouraged to make the use of clean cookstoves widespread. Supply of high-quality and effective cookstoves need to be increased in addition to an “enabling environment” that tracks the impact of the project, like carbon reductions and adoption.

Some of us in the U.S. may be hoping for kitchen makeover, but even more are hoping for a toxic-free kitchen. And, with the holidays in front of us, we can all get behind the new slogan for the cookstove campaign, “Cooking shouldn’t kill.”

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