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Solar Cooking and Health
Practical Action
running from Turkey through the Middle East to the Himalayas and southern North America. For
example, for eight months of the year solar cooking is practical as far north as Mazar-e Sharif in
northern Afghanistan. There, critical shortage of household energy could make its adoption
worthwhile. We have counted 67 countries where abundant insolation and varying degrees of need
Benefits to health
Here are some health problems, apart from respiratory diseases, and ways in which solar energy is
being used to alleviate them:
Polluted drinking water
Dr. Mercy Bannerman won a World Bank Development Marketplace prize in 2002. With this
funding she distributed 1600 solar cookers in northern Ghana and provided training in their use
to pasteurize water. She noted an immediate and lasting reduction of endemic water-borne
diseases like guinea worm.
Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions in which the optic nerve is damaged at the
point where it leaves the eye. This is identified as a major health problem, and it is believed that
people are considerably more at risk when exposed to toxic smoke.
The danger from open fires
Thousands of small children are maimed each year through falling into cooking fires. For example
the Burn Unit of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa
admits almost 1000 patients a year, ranging from newborn babies to 13-year-old children
(Children’s Hospital Trust).
Wherever there is political unrest, as in Darfur and Somalia now, women are at high risk of rape
and murder when they leave their villages to forage for fuel wood. And, because of the
environmental degradation caused by this practice, they have to go ever farther to find it.
Insufficient and unsafe diet
Increasingly, the diets of people in the developing world are being adversely affected by shortages
of fuel wood. Improving food safety, through making it cheaper and easier to cook food so that it
contains less pathogens, can improve health. In some places, people are forced to barter some of
their limited food supplies to obtain fuel with which to cook the rest. Reducing the cost of fuel
increases money for food.
Cultural acceptance of solar cooking
There are very large numbers of reports of uses of, and demands for, solar cookers. For example,
we have letters from village officials in Bolivia pleading for more solar cookers; similar letters from
women’s groups in Senegal; the assertions of Haitian women that they often solar cook two meals
a day; pictures of a solar restaurant in northern Chile, and so on.
In addition, there are scientific evaluations of solar cooking education and distribution programs.
For example:
In 1995, Solar Cookers International conducted a training program at the Kakuma
refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. In 1998, the program was evaluated. A random
sampling of the women who had been trained three years before continued to solar cook
54% of their meals. A similar evaluation conducted at the Aisha refugee camp in
Ethiopia in 2001determined that fuel wood usage in the camp was down 32% following
the introduction of solar cookers.
In 2005, an evaluation was completed in a series of Bolivian villages. It assessed
promotions conducted by David and Ruth Whitfield in preceding years. It found that solar
cooking families had reduced their fuel expenses 40% in the dry season and 35% in the
wet season.