Smokeless stoves: a burning need

13 June 2014

We’re going to spend the next two or three blogs telling you about stoves. Sounds less than appealing doesn't it? Well, how about if we told you that stoves can be a matter of life and death? This isn’t just for the obvious reason - that people need them to cook. However, in Kenya as a whole, a staggering 96 per cent of the population has no access to grid electricity. Stoves are essential. This usually means wood and dung-fuelled stoves. This may seem an elegant enough solution until you consider the effects of the smoke. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that some 1.5 million deaths a year are caused by wood smoke. And aside from that worrying statistic there are the ongoing and long-term health effects of wood smoke. Most of these are not too hard to guess: they include lung disease, respiratory infections and ear and eye problems. And children - and adults - can be burned in open fires. That’s far from all. In the area Friends of Londiani knows best - the Londiani and Kipkelion Districts - women can spend up to six hours a week collecting firewood — and carrying it long distances. And it’s not free: permits and payments can be involved. Nor is wood unlimited: deforestation is a growing issue. There is an alternative, however - one that uses wood, but in a safer and more efficient way: smokeless stoves. Regular readers will have seen blogs from volunteers working on the installation of such stoves and may have wondered what they involve. Well, we are today working with a stove design adapted for local conditions over the past few years. It takes three or fours hours to install, costs about $25 and can more than halve firewood use. That reduced spending can result in a return on investment within a few months but, equally importantly, women spend less time carrying and collecting wood, which gives them more time to do other things. It’s no surprise therefore that communities across a number of districts are listing smokeless stoves as a priority. And we are listening to them. Friends of Londiani can’t solve this problem for everyone - but it can make a start, and set an example, with the help of volunteers and the residents of Londiani. In fact all of us, together, have been working on a smokeless stove project since 2009. That’s what we're doing about stoves - and why. Next week we’ll tell you how we’re doing it.