August 26, 2005

New stove clears air, cuts chores in Eritrea

By Ed Harris

BIMBILNA, Eritrea (Reuters) - Grandmother Lemlem Ghilazgi
used to spend hours every day hunting for scarce firewood
around her small village in southwest Eritrea.

The Horn of Africa nation has lost 95 percent of its
forests in the last 100 years because of drought, a growing
population and a 30-year battle for independence during which
many trees were chopped down to deny hiding places to

A third of Eritrea's population -- more than 1 million
people -- were uprooted by the conflict with neighboring
Ethiopia, putting even more pressure on dwindling resources.

But now a local cooking innovation is making life easier
for women like Ghilazgi and her neighbor Madaddu Cere as they
struggle to survive grinding rural poverty.

"When you bake injera now, it is really good," said Cere,
offering visitors pieces of the pancake-like bread, cooked in a
modified version of the mogogo traditional clay stove.

The original mogogo stoves are smoky and dangerous and
often difficult to start, sometimes needing kerosene to get

The award-winning new mogogo uses half as much firewood,
insulates the flames and makes better use of ventilation, Cere
said. "We don't get all the smoke," she added happily.

Thick smoke from stoves and fires inside homes is
associated with around 1.6 million deaths a year in developing
countries, two United Nations agencies said last year.

Families can contract fatal lung diseases from burning
solid fuels that give off toxic gases in their poorly
ventilated kitchens, the agencies said, estimating the risk to
be the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.


The new mogogo stoves are also safer because the flames are
enclosed, protecting curious children from burns.

The stove looks like a waist-high clay box which keeps the
firewood off the ground and channels the smoke though an
exhaust pipe, releasing it away from the structure. Wood,
twigs, leaves and animal dung can be burned in the mogogo.

Designed by Eritrean researchers, the improved stove won a
British environmental award in 2003, but is only now reaching
Ghilazgi, Cere and other women in Bimbilna village.

"It takes much less time because it contains the heat,"
says Ghilazgi, proudly showing off one of 130 stoves donated as
part of a pilot project set up by the Eritrean government,
British embassy, the Catholic church and the charity Care

The stove's makers say it also cuts environmental damage by
reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.

David Gilmour, country director for Care, said the mogogo
stove addressed problems found in many East African countries.

"It was designed in Eritrea, but deforestation and poor
health from use of fossil fuels for cooking in the home are
common issues in the region," he said.


Eritrea's fragile environment has been further weakened by
drought that withered crops and killed more than 40,000 cattle
in May and June this year, according to the latest U.S.-funded
food security report on Eritrea.

Even some of the huge baobab trees, which can be as much as
a century old, have died.

But seasonal rains in the last two months have turned much
of the highlands and western lowlands green again, raising
hopes among farmers of a better harvest this year.

An estimated two-thirds of Eritrea's 3.6 million people
need food aid, including hundreds of thousands displaced by the
war, like many of Bimbilna's residents who live in round clay
huts, covered with thatch or dark blue plastic sheeting.

Wood, needed for construction and cooking, is scarce and
having to search for it makes hard lives harder.

U.N. agencies say rural women in poorer countries typically
spend up to three mornings a week collecting fuel, which
prevents them from looking for paid work which could help them
improve their living standards.

New stoves are being built in Bimbilna for 65 families from
the indigenous Kunama ethnic group, and 65 families from the
Tigrinya group, who were displaced by the war.

The aim is to teach local women how to build the stoves
themselves so that they can pass on the knowledge to others.