How Giving Nepalis The Gift Of Clean Cooking Helps Save Lives
Thursday, November 29, 2012
The Himalayan Stove Project is one of those organizations that mediates a need most westerners don’t even know is an issue. Sure, we hear about world tragedies on the news: poverty, war and natural disasters. These are noteworthy, pressing problems in need of media attention and aid. But it’s rare that a nonprofit has the intelligence to not only address a dire problem (a problem that wouldn’t be on the radar of any #firstworldproblem twitterer), but also to offer a perfect, tried-and-true solution.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 3 billion people cook meals on stoves using biomass materials, such as wood or animal dung. The majority of this cooking takes place indoors, especially in high-altitude, frigid regions such as, you guessed it, the Himalayas.
Byproducts of cooking stoves are dangerous when inhaled. Indeed, indoor air pollution is the fourth-most deadly ailment in the world behind malaria, unclean water and HIV/AIDs. And because they spend more time cooking inside their hut, yurt, tent or shack, women and kids are impacted the most. Some sources even estimate that indoor air pollution causes 900,000 child deaths per year due to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. That’s something you don’t have to worry about when firing up a Viking range.
While it’s a complex problem, the solution is quite simple, at least in theory: distribute a cooking stove that burns cleanly and efficiently. You eliminate indoor smog. You save fuel. You cook food faster. Bada bing, bada boom.
George Basch, founder (and self-described “Chief Cook”) of the Himalayan Stove Project oversees the organization, which distributes the high-tech-sounding Envirofit G-3300 Cookstoves to people living in mountainous Himalayan regions. Remarkably, the stoves reduce harmful smoke and gases by 80 percent, slash cooking time by up to 50 percent, and conserve fuel (a few hefty sticks of wood) by 60 percent. These outstanding statistics render the cookstove life-changing to families previously cooking with traditional campfires and stoves.
To date, the Himalayan Stove Project has delivered roughly 1,400 stoves to people living in Nepal — an impressive feat considering the logistical challenges in transporting the stoves to their recipients. “There are two stages in the delivery process,” explains Basch. “Getting them from our warehouse in Kathmandu to the road head (i.e., end of the road), and then from there to the villages and homes where they are installed.”
During the first stage, Basch and his team use trucks, or baggage on public bus systems, though some areas are accessible only by airplane or helicopter. Basch encounters other obstacles when transporting the stoves. “Road conditions, monsoon season and winter — roads in Nepal range from mediocre to horrible, and many are impassable for months at a time, so we have to deal with those issues as well.”
During the second stage of delivery, stoves are either gathered from the road head by the villagers themselves or carried on the backs of porters (each stove weighs as little as 6 pounds, but they are somewhat bulky to carry).
Yaks, however, are out of the question. “They are rather rambunctious beasts,” says Basch. “They have a tendency to bang their loads around, trying to show that they’re the boss (they usually are – big and a trifle mean) so to date we’ve stayed away from using them – we want to deliver the stoves undamaged.” Noted: No yaks.
After having seen the profound impact his stoves can have on a person’s quality (and longevity) of life, Basch has big plans for the future.
There are roughly 26 million people living in Nepal who could greatly benefit from the stoves. With families averaging four people, that’s 6.5 million stoves — a massive figure. “We’ll never accomplish that, at least in my lifetime,” admits Basch. “But we’re going to chip away at it. Every time we raise enough money for a full container, about $175,000, we’ll bring in another one.”
And you can help. This season, the Himalayan Stove Project is offering a Mount Everest Commemorative Poster to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first five American mountaineers to reach Everest’s summit in May 1963, shown below.
Designed by artist Elizabeth Mercuri, the poster’s Art Deco-style depiction of Everest would make one awesome gift for the crunchy granola outdoor enthusiast in your life. I particularly like how the snowy ravine, I believe it’s the Khumbu Icefall, up to the summit is reminiscent of a dragon (anyone agree?). This puppy can be yours for a donation of $250, all profits go directly into the Himalayan Stove Project.
To support the region that has rendered travelers speechless for centuries, order your poster here.
About the Author
Jenna Blumenfeld, (Jenna Ogden Blumenfeld when she’s in really big trouble) hails from the wee state of Connecticut. Although her childhood dream of becoming a bug doctor — with a specialization in ladybugs — has gone unfulfilled, she is content writing about travel, cuisine and culture. A vegetarian, she currently resides in the food hub of Boulder, Colorado. Read more of her food-centric writing at NewHope360.com.