Imagine walking into your kitchen, the place where you keep all your food, where you cook and where your children and family â€œhang outâ€. You walk into this area and see nothing but blackened walls and ceilings, all covered with soot from the cooking fires you build every single day. Imagine that when you walk in, the air is thick with particulate matter from a fire that is burning under your pot of soup. The smoke is trapped in your kitchen because you don’t have any windows or ventilation because your house is safer from thieves this way. After spending tireless days working over the open flame your lungs hurt and your throat is sore.
Imagine not being able to attend school because you have to spend all day collecting wood for fires. You often have to collect wood in dangerous places, away from other people. All too often, if you are a young boy or girl, you are beaten and possibly raped while you collect firewood for your family. This is what it is like everyday for women, children and men living in the developing world.
Over 4 million people a year die from issues caused from cooking over open flames. Rates of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and many other diseases are dramatically increasing in developing countries. Health issues are a major concern but also of concern are the high rates of burns caused by accidents from having open fires in the kitchen areas. Families do not have a choice but to cook over open fires. The majority of people in the developing world do not have electricity in their homes for electric stoves and gas stoves are way too expensive. Wood and other biomass fuels are free and therefore the fuel of choice.
An alternative to the use of open fires for cooking is the use of fuel-efficient stoves. While these stoves continue to use wood for cooking they burn much more efficiently and at higher temperatures. Cooking over open fires, the traditional cooking method in most developing countries uses about 10kg of wood a day on average. Most fuel-efficient stoves use less then 2 kg of wood per day. These types of stoves also produce 80% less smoke and particulate matter. These are the leading causes of health problems associated with the use of open fires for cooking. Many fuel-efficient stoves incorporate an outside chimney in their design, which releases smoke and particulate matter outside the home.
Providing families in the developing world with the opportunity to use fuel-efficient stoves for cooking is an excellent solution to a significant problem. If families were provided with fuel-efficient stoves, not only would health concerns be addressed, but children would be able to attend school more consistently, safety concerns associated with fire wood collection in unsafe areas would be addressed and the terrible burns caused by open fires would be diminished.
MEDLIFE is very interested in addressing the issues associated with traditional cooking methods. Most recently we worked in Cusco, Peru. The goal was to not only design a stove that was fuel-efficient but one that could be built by both community members and volunteers who work with MedLife. The stove we designed has two burners and an oven, is fuel-efficient and will reduce the amount of smoke and particulate matter in the homes of Peruvian families.
While providing fuel-efficient stoves is an important goal for MEDLIFE, we know that in order for the project to be successful we must first educate people about the hazards of open fire cooking, and the benefits of fuel efficient stoves. During our first trip to Cusco for the project, we devoted a lot of our time to educating the community that will receive the stoves.
When visiting one community, a woman stepped out of the crowd and explained how she desperately needed a stove because her daughter was very sick with upper respiratory problems. She already knew that her traditional form of cooking was having a negative impact on her daughter, but she did have the means to switch to an alternative. Throughout these community visits and educational programs we also discussed the medical clinics that would be available in their communities, the importance of preventative health care and how the construction of fuel-efficient stoves would be part of these clinics.
Throughout our work in Cusco, we traveled to many communities, one of which was Yuncaypata, a small community with less than 80 families, 30 minutes outside the city. During that visit we met Susana, a mother of 5 boys. They have lived in Yuncaypata for many years and have always used open fires for cooking. Two of her sons are very sick, suffering from respiratory illnesses. Susana desperately hoped for a stove that would be less harmful to her family. Having developed a stove design weeks before, we built a stove for Susana. Needless to say, she and her family were very grateful.
I learned the importance of using fuel-efficient stoves instead of traditional cooking methods while working in Guatemala at a medical clinic for malnourished children. While there I saw first hand the significant health problems caused by smoke inhalation from the use of open fires for cooking. I knew this was a growing concern in communities in the developing world and also knew that this was an area in which I wanted to continue to work. I am grateful MEDLIFE has given me the opportunity to work alongside local communities in Peru to solve the problems associated with traditional cooking methods.
The clinics MEDLIFE is developing in the communities around Cusco, Peru will help address health issues, provide preventive health care and enable community members to receive fuel-efficient stoves. Together with the help of volunteers and the community, MEDLIFE can help solve the issues caused by traditional cook stoves.