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By Ainhoa Mugüerza Osborne
According to World Bank estimates, more than three million people die prematurely each year from household pollution, the majority in countries with fewer economic resources. Cooking systems and inefficient biomass burning cause serious health damage, especially for women and children who spend more time in homes.
The change comes from simple solutions such as implanting fireplaces adapted to each house, making kitchens with more suitable materials or the use in certain solar cooking places. However, "specific action plans are needed for each country," says Yabei Zhang, an energy economist at the World Bank. The alternative does not necessarily imply a change in the energy model focused on the use of fossil fuels, but rather on a sustainable use of the resources that are already used or of renewable energies such as solar.
Burning wood, animal droppings or agricultural residues releases high amounts of pollutants such as hydrocarbon, nitrogen oxide or carbon monoxide into homes. These substances could be reduced with more efficient cooking systems. Constant exposure to these types of elements can cause serious respiratory illnesses: "The smoke from a traditional wood fire is equivalent to smoking about 400 cigarettes per hour," says Kirk Smith, professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California at Berkeley .
Women, in most cases, are in charge of traveling long distances to find fuelwood that is scarce in deforested areas. The implementation of stoves that manage to reduce their consumption largely solves both problems. In Senegal, a project financed in part by the World Bank, has succeeded in promoting the local construction and purchase of furnaces that reduce dependence on firewood by burning it efficiently. Maimouna Diener cooks with one of them on the outskirts of Dakar where she lives with her husband and their nine children. He assures that with what he saves he can buy more rice, other food and solve different expenses. In the Senegalese region of Tambacounda, its inhabitants have started to make charcoal from dead tree branches. Thanks to this technique they manage to create a local economy that provides more benefits without harming the environment in which they live.
However, most solutions come from international aid through numerous public and private entities that offer alternatives in different countries in Asia, Africa or South America. For César Lema, permaculturist and Doctor in Biology, the question lies in the concept of self-sufficiency: “If you teach people to make kitchens with the materials they have, they won't care if a company from outside comes to sell them one per 100 dollars, ”he says.
In Spain, César Lema was interested for years in the construction of solar cookers when he found that he could make them at home with simple elements such as glass, cardboard or aluminum. Thanks to the knowledge he has acquired, he has prepared a manual for its manufacture without the need to depend on high economic resources. He insists that it is necessary to "give the fishing rod to the people, the initiative and the idea" to achieve self-management. The use of solar energy as a cooking method also allows the pasteurization of the water to eliminate the harmful agents it may contain.
To alleviate the need for sun when cooking and good weather conditions there are several systems to conserve heat. One of them is oil storage, as incorporated in the kitchen of the “Gaviotas” community hospital in Colombia. In it they bet on the use of renewable energies as an efficient and self-sufficient way of life. The kitchen, as a starting point.