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Tackling China’s Air Pollution Crisis: An Innovative Solution

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

China reached an undesired landmark in 2013. While the country’s impressive economic growth has amazed the world, it has come at a price: pollution. China recorded record levels of smog in 2013, with some cities suffering air pollution many times above what is acceptable for human health.

This is evidence of the perils of rapid industrialization using non-green technologies. China relies on coal burning, a highly polluting resource, for 70 to 80 per cent of its electricity. It also uses coal for factories and winter heating.

Burning coal causes smog, soot, acid rain, global warming, and toxic air emissions (http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c01.html). Environmental group Greenpeace claims 83,500 people died prematurely in 2011 from respiratory diseases in Shandong, Inner Mongolia and Shanxi – the top three coal-consuming provinces in China.

Anyone visiting Beijing or other Chinese cities will notice the high levels of smog and how this interferes with access to sunshine and curbs visibility. Worse still for human beings and the environment, this level of pollution causes severe respiratory problems, and has the potential to cause a rise in cancer rates, among other health problems.

Beijing had record pollution levels in January 2013. That haze, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, covered 1.43 million square kilometers.

Generated by industry and coal-fired power stations, particulate matter (http://www.epa.gov/pm/) or PM, is a complex mix of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.

In October 2013, Beijing announced a series of emergency measures to tackle the record high levels of pollution and smog (http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/23/world/asia/china-beijing-smog-emergency-measures/index.html). The Heavy Air Pollution Contingency Plan uses a color-coded warning system if serious pollution levels occur in three consecutive days. This means kindergartens, primary and middle schools will need to stop classes. Eighty per cent of government cars must come off the roads and private cars can only enter the city on alternate days based on a ballot system. Emergency measures will come into play when the air quality index for fine particulate matter, called PM2.5 (http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/faq.htm#0) – very fine particles that lodge in the lungs and are very harmful to human health – exceed 300 micrograms per cubic meter for three days in a row. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the safe limit for human beings is 20 micrograms (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/).

The only serious, long-term solution is to switch to non or low-polluting green energy sources. But, meanwhile, some are coming up with stop-gap measures that also help to educate people about the necessity to do away with this major threat to human health.

Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde (studioroosegaarde.net) thinks he has a temporary solution to the pollution problem – a “vacuum cleaner” to clean up the sky. And the city of Beijing is taking the solution seriously.

The proposed technology works like this: a system of buried coils of copper produce an ion electrostatic field that attracts smog particles. The particles are magnetized and are drawn downwards, creating a gap of clean air above the coil.

Called the Smog project, it is already under discussion with the mayor of Beijing. An animation video explains how it works: http://studioroosegaarde.net/video/the-smog-project/.

Talking to CNN, Roosegaarde likened the science behind the invention to what happens when “you have a balloon which has static (electricity) and your hair goes toward it. Same with the smog.”

In a deal with the Beijing city government, the technology will be tested in the city’s parks.

Roosegaarde has successfully tested the technology indoors and found it worked in the experiment.

He told CNN: “Beijing is quite good because the smog is quite low, it’s in a valley so there’s not so much wind. It’s a good environment to explore this kind of thing.”

“We’ll be able to purify the air and the challenge is to get on top of the smog so you can see the sun again.”

Roosegaarde thinks that successfully running the experiment in a Beijing park makes a radical statement and shows the benefits of breathing clean air and being able to see the sun on most days.

But he is not deluded that this is the final solution for pollution: “This is not the real answer for smog. The real answer has to do with clean cars, different industry and different lifestyles.”

With many people resigned to the pollution, at least for now, China’s entrepreneurs are making the face masks and air filters people wear to protect their lungs from the pollution more fashionable and appealing to look at, the South China Morning Post reported.

Xiao Lu, a saleswoman at Panfeng Household Products, explained the varying fashion tastes in masks: “Young people tend to like bright colors. Men prefer blue or black masks. Right now, UV proof masks are popular.”

Lu told the newspaper that customers make their decisions based on comfort and price.

Popular brands include Respro (http://respro.com/), Totobobo (totobobo.co.uk) and 3M9010 (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/3M-PPE-Safety-Solutions/Personal-Protective-Equipment/Products/Product-Catalog/?N=5022986&rt=c3).

But, why not just move out of cities and avoid breathing bad air? Things are not that simple from an economic perspective. The South China Morning Post quoted Rena from Urumqi in China’s western Xinjiang province, who came to Beijing for the better job opportunities.

“Going back to Urumqi means less job opportunities and the air is not necessarily better,” she said. “Staying in Beijing means wearing a mask most days. It’s not very comfortable.

“But I can’t cover my face forever,” she said. “I’d prefer to live in a cleaner environment.

Published: December 2013

Resources

1) eChinacities: Waiting to Exhale: Guide to Buying Face Masks in China. Website: http://www.echinacities.com/expat-corner/Waiting-to-Exhale-Guide-to-Buying-Face-Masks-in-China

2) Pollution-China.com: Living in China despite the pollution. Website: http://www.pollution-china.com/vmchk/RESPRO-masks/View-all-products.html

3) My Health Beijing: A family doctor’s evidence-based guide to wellness and public health. Website: http://www.myhealthbeijing.com/china-public-health/respro-vs-totobobo-which-mask-works-better-for-air-pollution/

4) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. We work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/

5) Coal power: A map of China’s 2,300 coal-burning plants. Website: http://world.time.com/2013/12/13/one-map-shows-you-why-pollution-in-china-is-so-awful/

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Traffic Signs Bring Safety To The Streets

By David South, UNDP Mongolia Communications Coordinator

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (Blue Sky Bulletin, Issue Number 6, May/June 1998)

Cars, mostly olive green Russian jeeps, weave in and out of the five-storey apartment blocks of downtown Dalanzadgad. Running through the centre of the capital of Omnogobi is a gardened boulevard, where families hide from the hot sun under trees.

That one road, and the few feeding into it, are the only enforced guides for drivers. It can be seen across Mongolia – settlements crisis-crossed by drivers looking for the shortest route to their destination. It doesn’t help that there are no natural or manmade barriers to prevent drivers going their own way.

In Dalanzadgad, a UNDP project to protect the environment from off-road driving has had an unexpected outcome: it has galvanized the community to make the streets safer by adding over 100 traffic signs. The project “Soil and Road” under UNDP’s Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP), started modestly. According to project director and local Khural head Mr. Byambasuren, the number of vehicles in the area shot up from 800 three years ago, to 1,500 today. Most of these vehicles drive off-road, kicking up dust and destroying flora, contributing to desertification.

“The disease rate here is very high because of the dust and we have many traffic accidents involving children,” says Byambasuren.

With a small grant of Tg 2.5 million from EPAP the project was able to organize workshops for local drivers where they signed a contract to not drive off-road, facing stiff penalties from the traffic police if caught.

A media campaign was also organized and posters and brochures distributed. The local traffic police were so impressed by the project they decided to chip in a further Tg 2 million to construct traffic signs and install concrete calming barriers.

At first they explored the possibility of buying ready-made signs but found the costs too prohibitive.

“We wanted to get signs that glowed at night but they were too expensive. We decided to make our own out of old oil drums.”

In a room thick with the smell of fresh paint sits the traffic signs. They all use internationally recognized symbols and only upon closer inspection, reveal their past life sitting on top of an oil drum. Each sign costs Tg 2,000 to make. In addition to the signs traffic calming concrete barriers have been installed in 20 places throughout Dalanzadgad.

Next year Byambasuren will target the large ger districts that surround the centre of Dalanzadgad. He has a message for any driver who doesn’t obey: “We will be banging on their heads with lectures if they break the rules!,” he says with a laugh.

The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia by Robert Ferguson can be found here: http://openlibrary.org/b/OL169160M/Environmental-Public-Awareness-Handbook

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Innovative Stoves to Help the Poor

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Half of the world’s population cook with a fuel-burning stove, and this figure rises to 80 per cent of households in rural areas in developing countries. Typical fuels burned include wood, coal, crop leftovers and animal dung. The indoor pollution from smoke and carbon monoxide is a top health hazard in the developing world, ranking just behind dirty water, poor sanitation and malnutrition. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.6 million people die each year as a result of toxic indoor air.

A landmark five-year study comparing Guatemalans cooking on open fires, to those using improved stoves, has brought more evidence forward of the damage done by indoor air pollution: “It’s been shown that children living in houses using open fires with solid fuels will have more pneumonia than children living in houses that are using cleaner fuels,” said Dr. Kirk R. Smith, an environmental health scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

The research, combined with studies in Asia, suggests additional health problems from indoor air pollution, including higher frequency of cataracts, partial blindness, tuberculosis, low birth weights and high blood pressure. The researchers found that cleaner stoves had larger effects than reducing salt in the diet or lowering blood pressure in women, with the results published last July in Environmental Health Perspectives.

But Southern innovators are finding practical ways to curb pollution from indoor cooking and the burning of trash in slums.

In Yunnan Province, China, entrepreneur Hao Zheng Yi’s Yunnan Zhenghong Environmental Protection Co. has been selling clean-burning stoves to rural farmers. One fifth of rural China has no electricity (UN), and 80 per cent rural dwellers burn wood or straw in ovens for heating and cooking. This creates heavy indoor air pollution, damaging health.

The so-called Efficient Gasification Burning system combines traditional fuel and natural gas: a hybrid that helps low-income households to affordably use the stove and not pollute their indoor air.

The stoves are sold for a profit in Yunnan Province, and so far 50,000 have been sold. Because the ovens are sold for a profit, Zhenghong had to consult extensively with the farmers in the design phase to make sure the ovens meet their needs.

The result has been that Zhenghong ovens run for five to eight years using the same amount of wood and hay a conventional oven burns in one year.

Another source of air pollution is burning trash in slums. The lack of formal trash removal services in slums has two bad consequences: one is the pollution and poison from rotting rubbish leaching into the soil and water table; the other is ad-hoc burning of the trash to get rid of it, which pollutes the air with a toxic, acrid stench. In Nairobi’s Kibera slum – the second biggest in Africa – over 60 per cent of the city’s residents live in the slum, and are bypassed by garage collection services. Garbage is piled up along the muddy roads and paths, or hangs in the trees.

The Kenyan NGO Umande Trust, which specialises in water and sanitation projects, has developed a home-grown method to burn trash and avoid having to turn to very expensive and complicated incinerators from Europe. The sheer quantity of trash that needs to be burned in the slum means smaller solutions will not be able to handle the problem.

Its “community cooker” re-uses garbage from the community as fuel for a boiler and oven attached to it. The heat generated by burning the rubbish provides hot water and cooking facilities – and also jobs for unemployed youths who collect the rubbish and stock the incinerator. It was developed by a Kenyan architect, and it is hoped the “community cooker” will be taken up across Africa.

The community cooker’s inventor, Kenyan architect Jim Archer, took eight years to design and build it: “My thinking was how do we get rid of the rubbish and …how can we induce people to pick it up. Then I thought, well if we can convert it to heat on which people can cook…” he told Australia’s ABC News.

Similar industrial scale trash incinerators can cost between US $50 million to US $280 million (World Bank) – “…when applying waste incineration, the economic risk of project failure is high…”. The community cooker on the other hand, will sell for US $10,000.

The idea was to create an incinerator that was simple to use and repair: something that the commercially available, computer-controlled incinerators were not able to do. As the cooker gets up to speed, it will be able to burn 60 per cent of the slum’s trash.

Local youth go house-to-house collecting trash. They get money from the slum residents for this. Rubbish is then exchanged for cooking time or hot water for washing.

“The trash has started to help us a bit after the cooker came. There are fewer diseases like diarrhea and the environment has improved. … I think burning the rubbish will bring good health to this community,” said Patricia Ndunge, as she fried onions on the cooker.

And it looks like the community cooker has a future: Kenya’s largest supermarket, Nakumatt, has pledged to pay for 20 more slum cookers.

Resources

  • Envirofit: A Shell Foundation supported project to produce 300,000 clean, wood-burning stoves for the developing world (starting with India, Brazil, Kenya and Uganda). Envirofit will offer a variety of sleek ceramic stoves from single to multipot, with and without chimneys, and with colors like apple red, baby blue and gold. The cost is to start at $10 to $20 and run to $150 to $200.
    Website: http://www.envirofit.org/

Follow @SouthSouth1

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsnovember2010issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Cleaner Stoves To Reduce Global Warming

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The use of polluting fuel-burning stoves by half the world’s population – including 80 percent of rural households – is a documented contributor to a host of health problems. Poor households not only have to contend with the ill health effects of dirty water and poor sanitation, the fumes from burning dung, wood, coal or crop leftovers lead to the deaths of more than 1.6 million people a year from breathing toxic indoor air (WHO).

The polluting stoves have also been identified as major contributors to climate change. The soot from the fires produces black carbon, now considered a significant contributor to global warming. While carbon dioxide is the number one contributor to rising global temperatures, black carbon is second, causing 18 percent of warming.

Getting black carbon levels down is being seen as a relatively inexpensive way to reduce global warming while gaining another good: cleaner air for poor households. The soot only hangs around in the atmosphere for a few weeks while carbon dioxide lingers for years, so the impact can be seen quickly.

A flurry of initiatives across the South are now designing, developing and testing clean-burning stoves to tackle this problem. The number of initiatives is impressive (see list of clean-burning stove initiatives by country: http://www.bioenergylists.org/en/country), but the test will be who can develop stoves that poor households will actually use and find the right model to distribute them to half the world’s population.

In India, the Surya cookstove project is test marketing six prototypes of clean burning stoves with poor households. Developed by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, the six stoves are still undergoing field testing. Initial criticisms from users have focused on the stoves’ durability and overly clinical appearance.

Cost will be critical to success no matter what the stove’s final design: “I’m sure they’d look nice, but I’d have to see them, to try them,” Chetram Jatrav in Kohlua, central India, told the New York Times. As her three children coughed, she continued that she would like a stove that “made less smoke and used less fuel” but she cannot afford one.

Envirofit India – founded in 2007 as a branch of the US-based Envirofit International – is at a more advanced stage, already selling clean-burning stoves across India and the Philippines. It claims to have already sold over 10,000 stoves to poor households.

They have developed high-quality stoves in four models: the B-110 Value Single Pot (a simple stove for one pot), S-2100 Deluxe Single Pot (a sturdier design), S-4150 Deluxe Double Pot (two burning surfaces), S-4150 Deluxe Double Pot with Chimney. They have been designed to be visually appealing for households – in tasteful colours like blue and green – and using high quality engineering for durability.

They have been tested by engineers at the Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory and are certified for design and environmental standards.

The stoves are on sale in 1,000 villages in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh. The stoves have already successfully undergone pilot testing in Chitradurga and Dharmapuri. The manufacturer uses a network of dealers, distributors, village entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organizations to make the stoves commercially available for purchase. They hope to have 1,500 dealer outlets by the end of 2009.

“Envirofit clean cookstoves have received an overwhelming reception in India,” said Ron Bills, chairman and chief executive officer at Envirofit. “Our cookstoves are not only meticulously engineered to reduce toxic emissions and fuel use; they are also aesthetically designed and durable. Envirofit takes great pride in offering high-quality, affordable products to typically underserved global markets.”

But once again price comes up as a major issue: Envirofit’s stoves are designed to last five years, and thus they cost more than other stoves for sale in India. An Envirofit stove costs between 500 rupees (US $10) to 2,000 rupees (US $40): existing stoves sell for between 250 rupees (US $5) and 1,000 rupees (US $20), and last a year at most.

As one blogger complained: “The envirofit stoves … are way beyond the capacity of the low income households who form 65% of the Indian population. Only the 10% of the middle to higher income segment can go for them… perhaps the price can be brought down by reducing the showy part of the stove to help the poorest.”

Envirofit is part of the Shell Foundation’s Breathing Space program, established to tackle indoor air pollution from cooking fires in homes and hopes to sell and place 10 million clean-burning stoves in five countries over the next five years.

Resources

A video shows the installation of clean-burning stoves in Peru, South America. It also has links to many other videos of clean-burning stoves and how to build and install them.
Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neZZvvnL8Lg

Designing a clean-burning dung fuel stove.
Website: www.bioenergylists.org

Follow @SouthSouth1

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsnovember2010issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022