Cleaner Stoves To Reduce Global Warming

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


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:, 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.


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.

Designing a clean-burning dung fuel stove.

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Cuba’s Hurricane Recovery Solution

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

(Havana, Cuba), November 2008


The frequency of extreme weather in the past decade has been attributed to global warming ( Many scientists believe the future will bring even more turbulent weather events and disasters. The devastation and hardship brought by natural disasters can eradicate development gains, and destroy livelihoods and health. It is critical countries help people to get back to their normal lives as fast as possible.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( says extreme weather events will become more frequent, more widespread and/or more intense during the 21st century. Extreme weather is already costly for countries in the global South. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) found that the cost of droughts, storm surges, hurricanes and floods reached a record US$210 billion in 2005.

The Caribbean island of Cuba ( was particularly affected in 2008 by extreme weather, as the island was battered by two devastating hurricanes – Ike and Gustav – and a lesser one, Paloma.  It was the only time that three major hurricanes have hit Cuba in the same season, with just a 10 day gap between Gustav and Ike. The hurricanes were described as the “worst ever” storms by Cuban officials

The cost to Cuba has been high: Damages from Ike and Gustav are estimated at more than US$5 billion (

Between 2001 and 2005, Cuba experienced seven major hurricanes. Half a million houses were damaged, and 90,000 destroyed. In the 2008 storms, 619,981 homes were damaged and 70,409 destroyed, with 468,995 homes losing their roof tiles.

But Cuba has developed a pioneering way to quickly rebuild after disasters on a tight budget and using local resources. By using so-called ecomaterials – construction materials that are ecologically and economically viable – the Cuban approach erects sturdy homes, rather than just temporary shelters.

It is a common experience after a disaster in a developing country for all the resources to be spent on imported emergency shelter – tents, shacks, plastic sheeting – that then become permanent and inadequate homes. These makeshift dwellings provide poor security and shelter from the elements. For Cuba, the enormous scale of the repair and reconstruction job is especially difficult because of the fuel shortages and building supply restrictions brought on by the United States’ embargo on the country ( In turn, Cubans are adaptable and creative with their solutions.

The Cuban approach builds permanent homes that can be expanded, teaches homebuilding skills and creates permanent employment in manufacturing building materials.

By developing technologies to manufacture building materials – bricks, concrete blocks, cement, roofing tiles, bamboo furniture – on site using local resources, the approach lets homeless people themselves rebuild sturdy, high-quality homes, rather than waiting for outside building crews to come and do it, or being dependent on expensive, imported building materials. By doing this, jobs are created and wealth and gets the community back on its feet after the disaster.

“This is all about going back to the roots: wood, concrete and bricks,” said the passionate brains behind this approach, Fernando Martirena, a professor at CIDEM  — the Centre for Research and Development of Structures and Materials — at the Universidad Central de Las Villas, in Santa Clara , Cuba (

“The so-called free market has demonstrated it can not tackle this problem of the urgent housing crisis in the world.”

At the heart of the Cuban approach are easy-to-use machines that produce the building materials. They range from hand-cranked presses that make mud and clay bricks, to vibrating presses for concrete brick making.

Training the homeless population to do the building themselves allows reconstruction work to begin straight away, rather than waiting for professional building crews to arrive on the scene. It is also psychologically more empowering for the people to be active participants in the rebuilding of their lives. The pride the people have in their new homes is visible.

And quality has been critical for the programme so it can become sustainable and long-lasting:

“The driving force for this project is need,” Martirena said. “If we want to obtain sustainability, we must go beyond need. After disaster, need is the driving force. But after two years, when most things have been completed, it must be a business. Good, beautiful, cheap. Normally, this technology is cheaper than industrial technology.”

To stay prepared for future natural disasters that destroy or damage homes, the Cubans have established strategic reserves of micro-concrete roofing tiles. The lightweight but strong tiles can be used to quickly erect a small module home, and then the home can be expanded and built on as resources and time allow.

Martirena, a former UNHABITAT award-winner, believes this approach to building materials brings prosperity back to rural areas and helps stem the flood of people to cities and urban sprawl seen across the global South.

“You have to go back to the origin of the problem: people are looking for money and better jobs. It is not because they like the cities; they hate the cities!”

“Bamboo harvesting (for furniture making) can bring people three times more income than they would make in the cities. They are really making money.”

For Cuba, this has been a journey from a highly centralised and fuel-dependent approach to house building, to a decentralised, low-fuel approach. From 1959, the year of the revolution, until 1988, Cuba built housing using a centralised factory method to make building materials. Prefabricated houses were erected across the country. The materials were delivered by road and rail, all fuelled by cheap oil from the former Soviet Union.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, oil became scarce and the transport network the building industry depended on fell apart. This time was called the “special period.”

Apart from natural disasters, Cuba’s housing stock has suffered under the US embargo. The country’s housing began to decay as repairs were not happening and new houses were not being built. When people did want to do the repairs themselves, the lack of building supplies made it difficult for them to do so. Cuba realized it had to do things differently: the solutions had to be local, energy-efficient, and easy to use.

CIDEM oversees workshops, training and building teams across the country. It tests new materials and designs in its labs before they are deployed as building solutions. The ecomaterials are chosen for low energy use and the ability to recycle waste. Being inexpensive, they offer a sustainable solution for the poor.

In the community of Jatibonico, single mothers make up 40 percent of those who have benefited from the building projects. One woman proudly showed off the home she had built in the Spanish style, complete with Greco-roman columns on the porch. It has a clean, modern bathroom with shower and toilet.

Martirena is currently working on a book of case studies about CIDEM’s projects helping Cubans cope with reduced oil dependency.

CIDEM collaborates with universities around the world and has 19 workshops employing over 200 people in Cuba, and 15 in other countries in Latin America and Africa. It works with the Ecosur initiative and all the machines and advice on how to use them is available from the Ecosur website (


  • “How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” is an award-winning film on how Cuba transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call “The Special Period.” Website:
  • Global Greenhouse Warming is a website that tracks extreme weather events around the world: drought, flooding, severe storms, severe winter, tropical cyclone, wildfires, and extreme heat waves.Website:
  • Cuba Hurricanes: Real-time reports of current hurricane threats to Cuba provided by an office in Old Havana. Also information on hurricanes of historical significance to Cuba. Website:
  • Gerd Niemoeller has developed flat pack, cardboard homes that can be deployed quickly after a disaster and can become permanent homes. Website: and the company website:
  • CIDEM and Ecosur specialise in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website:

Sponsored by BSHF. BSHF is now called World Habitat and it aims to seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from around the world.

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