June 13th, 2011
06:09 PM ET

Clinton takes on role in ending silent killer

All across the world women will cook a meal for their family today, and as a result, in certain parts of the world, one of them will die every 16 seconds.

That startling statistic is one of the reasons Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was planning a stop in Ethiopia on her current trip through Africa to highlight an initiative she strongly supports to bring cleaner cook stove technology to many parts of the developing world. The visit was subsequently canceled after Clinton’s trip was cut short due to a volcano in Eritrea that could have hindered air travel in the region.

“The simple act of cooking shouldn’t be one that kills you,” says Leslie Cordes, Interim Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private initiative overseen by the United Nations. Through its partnership with over 75 governments, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions, women’s self-help groups, and local communities in the developing world, the Alliance works to reduce market barriers that hinder the distribution of less toxic emitting stoves, while also raising global awareness for the many hazards posed by older stoves in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The numbers are alarming. Indoor air pollution from toxic smoke generated by traditional cook stoves is the fifth biggest health risk in the developing world, according to the World Health Organization. Of the nearly three billion people who use such stoves on a daily basis, nearly two million of them die each year from exposure to cook stove smoke. Exposure to the smoke is also blamed for a variety of chronic health problems such as acute pneumonia in young children, lung cancer, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

In addition to the health hazards posed by the stoves themselves, women face severe risks to their personal safety, especially in conflict zones and refugee camps, through the foraging of wood and other fuel supplies for their stoves. Inefficiencies in stove designs can also contribute to carbon dioxide and methane emissions, and added pressure on local forests and other natural resources.

The urgency of the issue tended to get lost in the combination of statistics attributed to the different health impacts posed by cook stoves Cordes said. But she has noticed a “ground swell of interest” in the issue recently. The support Secretary Clinton has given has been “critical” in raising the importance of the issue globally. Actress Julia Roberts was recently named as a “Global Ambassador” for the Alliance, and has been working with Clinton to raise the profile of the issue.

The Alliance has set a goal of ‘100 by 20,’ the ability of 100 million homes throughout the developing world to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. The attainment of that goal will be laid out in a strategic plan to be released on the first anniversary of the Global Alliance this September.

Through their efforts, the Alliance works with manufacturers to create sturdier stove models to reduce the incidents of burning or scalding, and more efficient stoves that show a reduction of fuel cost, along with a reduction in the time it takes to gather fuel. There are additional efforts underway to work with manufacturers to design combustion chambers on stoves that are fueled by cleaner energy sources, such as propane and natural gas, to reduce the exposure of emissions and particulates produced by older stoves. The eventual goal is for eighty to ninety percent of emissions from the stoves to be clean Cordes says.

The United States, a founding partner of the alliance, has pledged $50 million over the next five years to help the alliance meet its goal by 2020. The U.S. is also putting forward a range of experts to assist in implementing the distribution and manufacturing of cleaner and more efficient cook stoves to the developing world.

In Ethiopia, Clinton was scheduled to meet with local women in Addis Ababa who make money selling new, clean cook stoves. Since the launch of the initiative last September, Clinton has raised the issue in public many times in addition to her discussions with world leaders and organizations in private discussions. Those discussions have been instrumental to bringing in new individual and group donors, as well as new donor governments to help fund the issue Cordes said.

“The benefits from this initiative will be cleaner and safer homes, and that will, in turn, ripple out for healthier families, stronger communities, and more stable societies,” Clinton said during the launch of the initiative.

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Filed under: Clinton • Diplomacy • Secretary of State • United Nations
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