The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency has been promoting green technology partnerships during a trip to East Africa. One project is aimed at resolving Ethiopia’s most pressing environmental concerns.
Tedla Woldemichael is an environmental activist working to promote fuel-efficient cooking stoves in mostly rural southern Ethiopia.
He was in Addis Ababa this week to demonstrate his stoves to visiting US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
"If we save fuel, then that is conserving the forest, so this is our idea," Woldlemichael said while explaining the connection between fuel-efficient cooking and environmental protection. "Now, if you conserve the forest, then we are fighting against climate change."
Wood and other biomass fuels are scarce in Ethiopia. A century ago, 40 percent of the country was forest. Today it’s less than 4 percent.
Despite a massive tree-planting campaign, woodlands are in danger as a rapidly growing population scours the countryside for fuel.
Tedla’s organization, Concern for Environment, does not simply hand out clean cook stoves. Instead it provides women with molds and materials to build their own stoves that use less than half the fuel of traditional cooking fires. They can then re-use the mold to produce and sell more stoves to others in their communities.
"We are providing a molder that makes this cook stove, and with this it is possible to save 55 percent of energy," explained Woldemichael. "They make this one, they sell from the profit, they make their livelihood. It is [an] income generation scheme."
Experts say in addition to saving fuel and money, clean cook stoves also can prevent thousands of deaths from respiratory diseases caused by smoke from indoor fires.
But providing the cook stove technology is one thing. Adapting it to local needs is another. In a vast country like Ethiopia, conditions vary from region to region. What works in one place may fail in another.
To help introduce clean cook stoves, the U.S. Peace Corps has dispatched 31 environmental specialists into the countryside. Peace Corps Country Director Nwando Diallo says these volunteers will be a link between policy makers in Addis Ababa and families in remote villages.
"Our volunteers live there for two years," said Diallo. "So the idea is you’re working one on one with individuals in the community and trying to pass on and transfer skills so you’re not just popping in to town, doing a workshop for a week, but you are actually living there and making sure the individual is moving toward those appropriate new technologies."
EPA Administrator Jackson says her agency has committed $6 million over five years to support a clean air partnership known as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. She told a group of activists in Addis Ababa the goal is to place 10 million clean stoves in Ethiopia within five years.
"Everyone here is working to increase understanding of hazards of burning conventional fuels in the home," said Jackson. "They are highlighting health benefits that cleaner stoves and cleaner indoor air can bring. And importantly they are working to make those benefits possible with cleaner technology, in other words by building a better cook stove."
EPA officials say nearly three billion people worldwide use cook stoves. Jackson said environmental groups hope to convert 100 million African homes to clean technology by 2020.