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Old Stoves Can Kill Millions Each Year

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Roughly three billion people—that's about half of the world's population—cook their meals through the use of rudimentary stoves with open wood and charcoal fires. These stoves involve a method of indoor burning that releases toxic pollutants, from carbon monoxide to particulates that can give rise to a host of fatalities, from stroke to lung cancer to heart disease. (It's as if you were barbecuing indoors.)

Reliance on these stoves has been a longstanding problem in the developing world. About a decade ago, the United States began to fold a solution to this problem into their greater global aid efforts: In response to the conflict in Sudan's Darfur, the United States Department of Energy tasked scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's Energy Technologies Area with creating the Berkeley-Darfur Stove in 2005. The stove minimizes the use of fuel that these traditional cookstoves emit by 50%, also requiring less wood. Journalist Laura Ling recently profiled Danny Wilson, one of the minds behind this project, for Seeker Stories, a Discovery Channel initiative.

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The video is about three minutes long, and in it, Wilson claims that the inhalation of these toxins ultimately kills three to four million people per year nowadays—many more than 2010's estimate of 2 million. Though these cookstoves have been around for over a decade, this video is part of a larger series that aims to profile entrepreneurs whose contributions may fly under the radar.

In the video, Ling interviews a grandmother to five children in rural Tanzania who speaks candidly about the pain she routinely encounters while cooking—she wheezes and tears up, as do the children she's looking after. Wilson gives more context, explaining how the use of stoves disproportionately affects the developing world's women and children, who are more likely than grown men to take up domestic tasks. Wilson explains that this is not merely a health crisis, but entangled in a cobweb of economic problems—these circumstances and conditions bar women from budgeting their time elsewhere, such as pursuing their own passions.

40,000 Berkeley Darfur Stoves have been distributed in Sudan and Ethiopia so far, according to the video, while the project's also expanded to Haiti and Mongolia. I imagine that, for much of our audience at Food52, access to safe, efficient stoves is something of a given, but this problem is still widespread, and there are those trying in earnest to solve it. Though this particular Berkeley project is government-funded, there are analogous initiatives across the world, perhaps the most well-known of which is the UN's Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which accepts monetary donations and offers other concrete opportunities for partnership.

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Do you know of similar initiatives? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: cookstove, department of energy, sudan, darfur, ethiopia, haiti, mongolia