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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Putting Air Pollution on the Front Burner

Air Date: Week of

Millions of women and children in developing countries breathe in dirty smoke from stoves every time they cook. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just announced a public/private partnership to help fund and distribute safer cookstoves around the world. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Leslie Cordes, the Director of Partnership Development at the UN Foundation, a partner on this project.


GELLERMAN: There’s a simple device that can combat climate change, dramatically improve livelihoods, and make women and children safer. The device is a clean cookstove and according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton it’s available, and affordable right now.

CLINTON: I know that maybe this sounds hard to believe, but by upgrading these stoves millions of lives could be saved and improved. This could be as transformative as bed nets or even vaccines. So today I am very pleased to announce the creation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

GELLERMAN: The Secretary of State launched the Alliance this past week. The UN is part of this new public-private effort. Leslie Cordes, Senior Director of Partnership Development at the United Nations’ Foundation estimates that right now nearly three billion people in the developing world cook on polluting stoves and open fires.

CORDES: About half the world’s population uses over 500 million stoves every day to cook their food. They’re incredibly polluting and they’re often dangerous, they’re often not stoves at all. They’re often open fires, six-stone or three-stone fires. They give off an number of harmful and toxic pollutants that really poison the air that the women who use the stoves breathe, as well as the children and other family members that surround the stoves while they’re being used.

GELLERMAN: Mrs. Clinton was saying that there are two million premature deaths a year, and that, that’s twice as many as from malaria.

CORDES: That’s right. That’s the latest World Health Organization numbers that put that figure at close to two million. And, it’s really remarkable that the issue hasn’t received more attention, given the large number of deaths worldwide. In addition, millions more are sickened by the smoke from the stoves, the exposure. Children get early childhood pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and a number of other very serious health impacts. So, it’s even a much larger problem than those numbers tell the story.

GELLERMAN: Of course, it’s women who do most of the cooking in many of these places.

CORDES: That’s right. And, they also do most of the wood collection, and it’s also an expensive burden for women to fuel very inefficient stoves. And, women and girls travel often miles each day to collect wood, often at great personal risk. Especially in conflict countries, these women are at grave risk for gender violence and other physical injury.

GELLERMAN: So what makes a clean cookstove, clean?

CORDES: There’s a number of different things, but, basically what you want to do is combust the fuel as quickly and completely as possible. In addition to looking at cleaner stoves, we’re also looking at cleaner fuels and moving people up the fuel chain so that they are using fuels that are as clean as possible.

GELLERMAN: And climate clean, as well. That is, they don’t change the climate.

CORDES: That’s right. They reduce the emissions of CO2, methane, and a very potent climate-forcer, black carbon, which is particularly a problem for the arctic regions where it lands on the snow and absorbs the heat, and can cause problems in terms of melting snow.

GELLERMAN: So, it accelerates climate change?
CORDES: It accelerates climate change, that’s right.

GELLERMAN: But this is not a new concept, clean cook stoves, so what’s new here with the partnership?

CORDES: No, you’re right, it’s not a new concept. People have been addressing cookstoves and grappling with how to deploy clean cookstoves at scale for many years. But, we have some recent advances in design and testing and monitoring. We have new research on the health and environmental benefits of clean cookstoves, and some very exciting national programs that we think can really be built on to make clean cookstoves to scale in the developing world.

GELLERMAN: How much is a clean cookstove?

CORDES: They range in price anywhere from twenty to a hundred dollars. But obviously, our goal under the Alliance is really to make those stoves affordable for really the poorest of the poor, in which, use of inefficient stoves exacts a very high health toll and economic toll.

GELLERMAN: So what’s your goal? Do you have a specific goal in mind?

CORDES: Yes, we’re really…frankly our high-level goal is to seek universal access and adoption of clean cookstoves. But, we have an interim goal as well, and we’re looking at achieving a hundred million additional clean cookstoves out in the market by 2020. And, we also have an underlying goal to really strengthen the market for these stoves, because, as you know, giving away stoves that people don’t use is really not going to provide any health or environmental benefits.
But we’re excited by the opportunity presented by some of these new business models. We’ve got women owned businesses distributing stoves at the local level, we have innovative financing and micro-lending models. I was speaking with somebody yesterday who runs a stove manufacturing facility in Ghana, who has developed a very simple lending scheme for his stove.

He knows that women cannot afford the stoves up front, and it takes them about two months to pay back the cost of the stove upfront. So what Toyolla is doing is putting a small, almost like a little piggy bank in each home, and the people put a the money they would have spent on the wood fuel into this bank each day. And then after two months, he comes by and collects the bank, and that’s the payment for the cleaner stove.

GELLERMAN: Well, what about the cultural component? I mean, different places use different sized pots and pans.

CORDES: You’re absolutely right. Someone who is getting up in the morning to boil coffee and cook tortillas for their family is going to have a very different technology need than someone who is in Cambodia who is cooking rice. And so, one of the things we’re really trying to do under this alliance is look for those stoves which are culturally appropriate where the materials can be readily available, that are accessible to women in each of these different sectors. And we aren’t looking for a one-size-fits-all stove, we are really looking to address these cultural needs that you raise.

GELLERMAN: Leslie Cordes is Senior Director of Partnership Development at the United Nations Foundation. Ms. Cordes, thanks a lot.
CORDES: It was my pleasure, thank you.



Watch Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announce the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves at the Clinton global initiative Conference in NYC


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