How Safe Stoves Are Lifting Millions of Women Out of Poverty

A new life can begin with a simple stove.

Lauren Carter | World Food Program USA

For Insaf, a mother of seven displaced by violence in Darfur, a stove not only transformed the way her family eats — but how they put food on the table.

For most of her life, Insaf had to walk on foot to search and collect firewood to cook for her family – a daily task that put her life in danger in a region still plagued by ongoing violence.

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Cooking over an open fire is one of the most common health and safety hazards in developing countries.

Even after fleeing her home to live in a camp for displaced families, Insaf struggled – like so many women – by spending hours of her day collecting firewood in a landscape where trees are few and far between.

But then Insaf discovered the World Food Programme’s Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) Initiative, where she spent nearly two weeks learning how to make fuel-efficient simple stoves and fire briquettes.

Now she’s not just using them for her own family – she’s selling them for additional income.

Open fires and health risks

Cooking over an open fire is one of the most common health and safety hazards in developing countries. Most families in low-income countries rely on this method of cooking to prepare meals.

It’s also one of the highest causes of death in developing countries and is the second biggest health risk for women and girls worldwide.

In some places, it even ranks first. In fact, smoke inhalation from the burning of solid fuels kills 4.3 million people each year. Women and children under the age of 5 are especially vulnerable.

Women and girls are often responsible for both collecting firewood and cooking. This means they venture out in potentially unsafe areas exposing themselves to the risk of gender-based violence, wild animal attacks and even landmines.

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Searching for firewood also contributes to a reduction in time spent in school.

Searching for firewood also contributes to a reduction in time spent in school.

At a George Washington University Food Institute event in January on “The Interconnectivity of Cookstoves, Sustainability, and Diet,” acclaimed chef José Andrés said, “If young girls have to walk hours a day to collect wood, what time will they have for education?”

This kind of “time poverty” keeps vulnerable households – especially women and girls – from productive activities outside of the home like training and farming.

Overcoming challenges 

The challenges from inefficient cookstoves are especially apparent in refugee or other humanitarian settings, where resources are scarce.

“Refugee situations can put even greater stress on wood resources for cookstoves, leading to conflict,” World Food Program USA’s President and CEO Rick Leach told the audience at the George Washington University event.

In areas where firewood is not available, some families are forced to either sell part of their food rations to buy fuel, under cook or skip meals completely, leading to malnutrition.

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The challenges from inefficient cookstoves are apparent in refugee or humanitarian settings.

In North Darfur, for example, 80 percent of households surveyed reported selling part of their rations to purchase firewood.

There are serious environmental consequences from inefficient cookstoves as well. Fragile ecosystems often cannot withstand the loss of trees and vegetation that are cut down for traditional wood-fired stoves. The result is deforestation, erosion and damage to vulnerable land.

Providing a cleaner solution

To help address these far-ranging consequences, WFP launched SAFE in 2009. By 2015, SAFE was in 18 countries, helping 6 million people with fuel efficient stove distribution, training and other sources of fuel (like briquettes) for families and schools. WFP aims to reach 10 million people by 2020 (called the 10 x 20 campaign).

WFP is also a founding member of the UN Foundation-led Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. WFP is helping the Alliance and their devotion to help 100 million homes adopt clean and fuel efficient cookstoves by 2020.

Innovations like WFP’s stafe stoves are one of the smartest and simplest tools to achieve zero-hunger. They help women like Insaf safely and sustainably cook meals for the family, while preserving their well-being and the environment for generations to come. goldbrown2

This article first appeared on the World Food Program USA and was published with permission. 

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Lauren Carter is the Public Policy Associate at World Food Program USA, where she produces written materials and coordinates the development and organization of policy content to support the organization’s outreach efforts.

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