Nelly Bassily | June 13, 2011
Ngong Tunc Malok’s home feels eerie and deserted. The smouldering ashes bear witness to the devastating fire that robbed the family of its livelihood. She says, “I was alone with some of the children when the tukuls [huts] caught fire from the open fireplace used for cooking. There was nothing I could do. Everything is so dry, it happened so quickly, and there was no one to let out the animals.” The family’s three goats died in the fire. The family also lost all their clothes, cooking utensils and stored harvest.
Ngong’s misfortune is not uncommon in households which cook on open fireplaces. Uncontrolled fires like the one in Ngong’s home are not the only hazard. According to the World Health Organization, the smoke from open fires kills an estimated 1.9 million people, mostly women and children, every year. Open fireplaces are one of the five most serious health threats facing people in developing countries, resulting in lung and heart diseases and low birth weight. Open stoves also lead to deforestation because of the quantity of firewood needed to create sufficient heat for cooking.
Many in southern Sudan know people who have suffered similar tragedies. Last year, the international NGO Action Against Hunger introduced fuel-efficient stoves to Ngong’s community. Household fires have become far less frequent.
Alor Kon Deng is one of the women who received training and materials to build her own fuel-efficient stove. She says, “Before, when we used open fireplaces, many houses burnt down and our children would have a lot of accidents.” Alor walks two hours to and from the forest to collect firewood. She spends another two hours collecting wood. She says, “With the open fireplaces, this [amount] would last me for five days. Now, with my fuel-efficient stove, it can last up to two weeks.”
The fuel-efficient stoves are made from local materials. They take one day to build and cost twelve US dollars. They look quite simple, but the stove has had a great impact on Alor’s household of eight. With the time saved every day, she can now cultivate more land. She can make a small income and save for the dry season by selling straw at the market.
She explains, “Cooking is quicker as the fire doesn’t go out or is affected by the wind, so now a meal takes about one hour [to cook], whereas before it took three hours, and you constantly had to be around to watch it.” She can now do other chores while the food is cooking.
Only a small number of households were involved in the project. But the benefits have been so obvious to Alor’s friends and neighbours that several of them were motivated to build their own stoves. Alor says, “I showed other people how to construct a fuel-efficient stove and helped them build it.”
Akuel Geng is one of these neighbours. Proudly showing off her own version of the stove, she says, “I saw how little firewood the fuel-efficient stove uses and how safe it is. With the open fireplaces, a lot of houses would burn down, and children would get hurt. I have never seen that happen with the fuel-efficient stove. Not once!”