The Promise of Improved Cookstoves in the Developing World

13 Oct

A Traditional Cookstove Setup in Vietnam

The recent news from the Clinton Global Initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is committing $50 million to funding clean cookstoves is fantastic news for the poor in developing nations, particularly women and girls. Spearheaded by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (run by the United Nations Foundation), this initiative will address a pervasive problem that kills over 2 million people a year and sickens countless others.

The topic of cookstoves is one near and dear to PISA: using money provided by a micro-grant at the 2009 PISA Summer Institute on Global Climate Change, a team of academics and researchers from Vietnam embarked on a project to bring clean cookstoves to the village of Ban Nhop, Vietnam. In fact, less than a month before Clinton’s announcement we posted an interview with project lead Dr. Doan Duc Lan about his progress. The team has already completed GIS map surveys, sociological assessments of the village, has designed four improved cookstove models and begun training villagers on their construction. As this project moves forward it is gratifying to see a figure like Secretary Clinton affirm the importance of our work.

A Model of a New Brick Improved Cookstove in Vietnam, developed by Dr. Lan’s Team With Support from PISA

One feature of the Global Alliance’s plan is a public-private partnership that will, “work with public, private, and non-profit partners to help overcome the market barriers that currently impede the production, deployment, and use of clean cookstoves in the developing world.” Unlike PISA’s effort – a public-nonprofit collaboration – the Global Alliance plan will, according to the New York Times, use an, “entrepreneurial model in which small companies manufacture or buy the stoves close to their markets.” Such an approach holds promise and peril. Private companies may have resources and assets unavailable to even nonprofit groups with big-name endorsements. There is, however, a risk that a profit motive could introduce a barrier to obtaining the cookstoves. Many of the 3 billion worldwide users of these stoves are simply too poor to buy cleaner, greener alternatives, however they are priced.

In the wider view though, any effort to introduce more efficient and pollutant-free stoves is an important step. We look forward to updating you as the Ban Nhop moves forward and scales up.

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