Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The health dividend while preventing climate change, changes one village woman at a time 

Genevieve Nyirabagabe from Gatsibo District in Eastern Province dreads the cost of cooking fuel. Before she acquired the Save80 wood stove, it would cost her at least 12,000 Rwandan Francs (Rwf) to buy charcoal per month.

When she did not have the money – which was often – she had to spare time two or so day to gather firewood – usually agricultural residues, scraps of wood or fallen sticks wherever they may find them.
Now, with a few bits of wood, costing a minimal Rwf 2800 per month, she can cook a meal for her entire family. The stove can cook meal for a total of eight people.

Acquiring the stove has proved empowering, not only in terms of money, but also with the time saved.
The time the she used to spare to look for firewood she now employs in other activities. This has allowed her to dedicate more time to her women group involved in socio-economic activities.
Now not only does she have more time on her hands, but is are also making a little income through her women’s group.

Genevieve’s example is only a snap-shot of the impact the stove is having, multiplied many times with the empowering effect it is having in many women’s lives who no longer now have to rely on their husbands as they used to.

“This is one of the best things to happen to the women,” say Mary Balikungeri, RWN Director. “The stove has turned out to be one of the most potent tools in the RWN strategy to empower women.” The Save80 Stove project is a partnership between RWN and Atmosfair, a Germany-based organization whose main objective is reduce carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere.

Extensive use of firewood and charcoal

In Rwanda, biomass is the largest source of energy, with firewood and wood for charcoal making up around 80 per cent of the total. Agricultural residues and peat make another six per cent. Petroleum and electricity account for the rest. This suggests that almost every household and institution in Rwanda must use either firewood or charcoal for cooking.
Firewood and charcoal can be extremely inefficient in terms of energy use. To begin with, it has been established that for every kilogramme of charcoal produced, nine kilogrammes of wood have to be used.
Traditional charcoal stoves and the three-stone fires, quite inefficient in their fuel utilization, are still widely in use in kitchens across the hills. 
To be energy efficient, heat needs to be concentrated on the cooking pot in order to make maximum use of the energy. 
The flame from the three-stone and the heat from charcoal stove tend to be dissipated into surrounding, leading to excessive use of the fuel which demands more fuel.
The Save80 stove concentrates the heat to the pot, ensuring that it doesn’t get lost.
The subsidized stove comes with “wonderbox”, and works on a simple principle of retaining heat and conservation of high temperatures.  For instance, the food is bought to a boil in the stoves using a small stick or two of firewood, after which it is immediately placed in a “wonderbox” that continues with the cooking until the food is ready. The “wonderbox” preserves the heat and continuing with the cooking.

Health Dividend

Other than empowering the women, as the example of Genevieve illustrates, the importance of the stove is not obvious until one looks at the facts, especially as they may affect Rwanda’s mainly rural population as a result of global carbon dioxide emission.
Carbon dioxide, emitted when burning wood or charcoal, causes the greenhouse effect. Among other gases it traps heat in the atmosphere leading to global warming, which is responsible for increased drought and changing weather patterns.
With more households using the stove, not only in Rwanda but across Africa, the impact would be immeasurable.
To take the example of Rwanda, according to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the country could suffer economic costs amounting to 1 percent of annual GDP by 2030 due to global warming. The institute predicts a temperature rise of between 1.5 and 3 degrees Celsius by the 2050s.

The study notes that a large proportion of the rural population in Rwanda currently lives at altitudes beyond the normal mosquito habitat. 
It explains that as temperatures rise, so will the threshold altitude, increasing by 150% the number of Rwandans at risk of Malaria by 2050. The potential healthcare costs are of the order of $50 million per annum.
Therefore, other than empowering the women, the stove project harbours a health dividend.

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.