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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/

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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

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Urban Farmers Gain from Waste Water

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The global food crisis continues to fuel food price inflation and send many into hunger and despair. Around the world, solutions are being sought to the urgent need for more food and cheaper food. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people undernourished (FAO).

One fast-growing solution is bringing farming to urban and semi-urban spaces, where the majority of the world’s population now lives.

Urban farmers can take advantage of their close proximity to consumers, keeping costs down and profits up. They can also solve one of agriculture’s enduring problems – where to find water for irrigation by using existing waste water. Waste water is plentiful in urban environments, where factories usually pump out waste water into streams, rivers and lakes.

The amount of urban farmed agriculture is still small, about 10 percent of the world’s agricultural production, but is a potential growth area if handled well. In 53 cities surveyed by the International Water Management Institute, 1.1 million farmers – some 200 million worldwide – are now using recycled or waste water to irrigate their crops.

In Accra, Ghana, more than 200,000 people depend on food grown with wastewater. In Pakistan, a full quarter of the grown vegetables use wastewater.

The use of waste water comes with its ups and downs. While the World Health Organization rightfully points out that waste water can be a source of disease and pollution, cities also face a dilemma: diverting fresh water to irrigate crops means less for people to drink. Out of the 53 cities surveyed by the International Water Management Institute, 85 percent dumped their raw sewage and wastewater into streams and lakes. With this in mind, the WHO has altered its stance on wastewater, and now supports its use for irrigating farmland as long as all efforts are made to treat wastewater and that people are warned to thoroughly wash food before eating it.

Pay Drechsel, who heads the IWMI’s research division based in Accra, Ghana, studying safe and productive use of low-quality water, says sophisticated systems to use waste water have developed in Vietnam, China and India, “where this practice has been going on for centuries.”

“People know how to avoid health risks, like thorough cooking of vegetables,” he said. “In Vietnam and China, waste from households (fecal waste, solid waste and wastewater from household use) have always been effectively recycled in ‘closed systems’ at a household level where the waste/nutrients are recycled into the food chain and so return for human consumption.”

Drechsel cites examples like Calcutta, where a large wetland is being used for treating and recycling wastewater for beneficial uses such as fish farming. In Northern Ghana, fecal sludge from septic tanks is spread on fields that are later used to grow cereals.

“The risk for the consumer is extremely low, a waste product is productively recycled, the farmer has a good harvest and the city gets rid of their waste,” Drechsel said. “A multiple win-win situation.

“Depending on the local situations such models can be widely used, provided they are documented and the risk factors are controlled,” he added.

Farmers use various methods to reduce the risk of contamination, including drip irrigation where the water does not touch the crop.

The risks for both farmers and consumer can be managed with the right protocols. For farmers, Drechsel recommends wearing of rubber boots and careful hand washing to avoid skin diseases. He points out that these farmers usually make more money than those who do not use waste water, and thus can afford the extra cost of precautionary measures, like de-worming tablets. They can quickly get out of poverty by using this water.

For consumers, the risk is from diarrhoea, typhus or cholera if raw food is eaten unwashed or poorly washed. The best solution is to turn to the WHO’s guidelines and proven local practices and tested techniques developed by researchers.

“Here more awareness creation on invisible risks through pathogens is needed. Perception studies in West Africa showed that nearly all households wash vegetables but they target visible dirt. Thus, the methods used are not effective. Best would be therefore a combination of risk reducing interventions from farm to fork, as none alone is 100 percent efficient. This is also what the new WHO guidelines promote: a flexible approach, reducing in each country the health risks as far as it is possible and feasible.”

Drechsel sees an opportunity for water treatment plants to seize: “What is missing so far is a ‘design for reuse.’ If treatment plants would be designed to serve farmers they could be less sophisticated and easier to maintain. Farmers could be involved in this, maybe a win-win situation.

“The environment benefits too. Spreading wastewater over fields, and allowing it to leach back through the soil into local waterways, turns out to be a reasonable way to purify it. The process filters out all the organic contaminants, and much of the nitrogen and phosphates that would otherwise contribute to algal blooms and dead zones further downstream. It is certainly preferable to dumping wastewater straight into the nearest big river or lake.”

Resources

  • Vertical farming, where hothouses are piled one on top of the other, is an option being promoted as a solution to the food needs of urban dwellers.
    Website: http://www.verticalfarm.com/
  • Extensive photographs of vertical farm project concepts by Chris Jacobs in cooperation with the grandfather of skyscraper farm concepts: Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University. His ideal: all-in-one eco-towers would actually produce more energy, water (via condensation/purification) and food than their occupants would consume. His mission: to gather architects, engineers, economists and urban planners to develop a sustainable and high-tech wonder of ecological engineering.
    Website: weburbanist.com
  • Urban Gardening News, a news service providing a review of daily news targeting everyone involved in planning & practicing alternative farming in cities. Great updates on how things are progressing across the South.
    Website: http://www.urbanagriculture-news.com

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African Health Data Revolution

A pioneering tool for gathering health data now being used in Kenya could herald a revolution in the way diseases are tracked and defeated around the world. It uses mobile phones to better connect patients with medical and health personnel, and allows data to be gathered in real-time and used to track health and improve the delivery of services, especially to remote and under-serviced areas.

In the past couple of years, Kenya has become a hotbed of mobile phone and information technology innovation. The now-famous Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform (www.ushahidi.com) is just one example. Social enterprise Data Dyne (www.datadyne.org) – with offices in Washington DC and Nairobi, Kenya – is offering its EpiSurveyor application (www.episurveyor.org) free to all to aid health data collection. It bills itself as “the first cloud-computing application for international development and global health … Think of it as like Gmail, but for data collection!”

EpiSurveyor claims to have more than 2,600 users around the world and is currently being upgraded to a second version.

“With the touch of a button I can see what’s going on across the country in real time,” Kenyan civil servant Yusuf Ibrahim told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It is amazing.”

Ibrahim works in Nairobi as the Kenyan Ministry of Health liaison to Data Dyne.

He uses maps and charts on mobile phones to track deadly disease outbreaks and vulnerable pregnancies.

The EpiSurveyor application works simply: A user logs into the website and builds and creates the sort of form they want. They then download it to a phone and start collecting data straight away.

Ibrahim gathers this data from mobile phones used by health care workers across the country.

“It used to take days, weeks or even a couple of months to find out about an outbreak of polio on the other side of the country,” he said. “Now we know almost instantly. The speed with which we can now collect information has catapulted healthcare and prevention to another level. It has completely changed healthcare and saved countless lives.”

He proudly points out Kenya’s mobile phone data collection system is “probably better than what they’ve got in the West.”

“Although we are a third world country, I’m pretty sure we’ve done this before

Western countries. While they are still collecting information in hard copy on clipboards, we are getting it instantly.”

Packed with data processing power, mobile phones are capable of an immense range of tasks and applications. Some see phones as key to a revolution in how healthcare is provided: the mobile phone becomes one-part clinic, another part mobile hospital dispensing advice and transmitting vital information back to healthcare professionals and scientists in hospitals and labs.

Despite dramatic improvements to the quality of hospitals in Africa and the number of qualified doctors, the continent’s healthcare services are still a patchwork, with rural and slum dwellers poorly served and the stresses of treating patients with contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria pushing resources to the limit.

The United Nations has a number of initiatives partnering with mobile phone manufacturers, networks and software developers as part of a global campaign to reduce HIV/AIDS, malaria and deaths in childbirth.

EpiSurveyor is being used by more than 15 countries’ ministries of health and is the adopted standard for the World Health Organization (www.who.int) (WHO) for electronic health data collection.

It began as a partnership with the United Nations Foundation, The Vodafone Group Foundation, WHO and the ministries of health of Kenya and Zambia in 2006 to pilot test the software for EpiSurveyor.

At the United Nations Foundation (www.unfoundation.org), chief executive Kathy Calvin equates the impact of mobile phones on global healthcare to the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin.

“Instead of building clinics and roads to remote towns and villages so that people can access healthcare, we are bringing healthcare directly to the people via mobile phones. You get a lot more healthcare for your money,” Calvin told the Telegraph.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: November 2010

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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