The United Nations and its partners have teamed up with local villagers in Afghanistan to develop clean cooking stoves that could potentially save lives by improving indoor air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on wood for fuel.
Afghanistan is among the 10 countries worst affected by indoor pollution, given that over 95 per cent of its estimated 30 million people burn wood and other solid fuels in their homes, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
Indoor smoke from traditional Afghan tandoors, or drum-shaped ovens which are used for cooking and heating, is a major health issue. A recent WHO study found that inhaling smoke from indoor heating and cooking kills about 54,000 Afghans per year. Regularly breathing smoke also leads to childhood pneumonia, lung cancer and other cardiovascular diseases.
The inefficient use of dung and wood for fuel is also adding to stress on the environment, says the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which notes that all Afghan forests will disappear within 30 years at the current rate of deforestation.
“As Afghanistan moves from conflict and humanitarian crises to a development-driven agenda, practical programmes focusing on economic development, labour creation and the sustainable management of the environment are a high priority,” said Andrew Scanlon, officer-in-charge of UNEP’s Afghanistan programme.
The UN-supported project brings together local metal-smiths, engineers and environmental experts in Bamiyan province to design prototypes for clean cook stoves and other low-cost energy solutions which are now being tested by villagers.
The design team has so far developed four prototypes: a tandoor (called the Sutra, meaning clean), a bhukari (called the Foladi, meaning iron), improved briquettes and a solar water heater.
The project is part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which is calling for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020 to cut the estimated 1.6 million to 1.8 million premature deaths each year linked to indoor emissions from inefficient cook stoves.
As the stoves and other products are produced, they will be traded, rather than given away, as part of providing income sources and empowering local communities, according to Mr. Scanlon.
The project has added significance in that 2012 is the UN International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. The initiative aims to bring about concrete action to achieve universal access to modern energy services and double both the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global mix by 2030.