A quarter of humanity today lives without access to any electricity and almost one-half still depends on solid fuels such as unprocessed biomass, firewood coal, or charcoal for its thermal needs. These people depend heavily on firewood for their cooking, heating, and basic home appliances, an approach that comes with multitude of impact detrimental to their health, welfare and the environment.
Rural area and urban slum dwellers’ activities of depending on firewood have negatively affected the environment leading to deforestation and negative health effect such as acute infections of the lower respiratory tract (pneumonia) in young children, the chief killer of children worldwide and the disease responsible for the most lost life years in the world; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema in adult women who have cooked over unvented solid fuel stoves for many years; cataracts; low birth weight in babies of exposed expectant mothers, and other health conditions.
As part of its outreach projects to tackle the negative effects of heavy dependence on fuelwood for cooking in rural and urban slums, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under its Global Environment Facility (GEF) launched the UNDP-GEF sustainable fuelwood management (SFM) project to sensitise women on using efficient fuelwood cookstoves to conserve the environment and preserve their health.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP at a four-day clean cookstoves’ awareness, sensitization and capacity building workshop convened by the UNDP-GEF and Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) in collaboration with the Centre for Gender and Social Policy Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE) in Uvwiama community, Delta State, a woman leader, Gift Obukowho of Uwiama community expressed delight that the project was brought to the community to train them on more sustainable ways of cooking.
“Before this period, most people in the community were using firewood. Even though we use stoves, we still depend heavily on firewood, I spend between N250 to N500 on firewood depending on what I am cooking that day. And if I don’t have money to buy then I send my children to gather firewood for me. The firewood gives serious eye problems and we inhale a lot of smoke, responsible for incessant cough. The children are always sick, associated with inhaling the smoke.
“I am very happy with this project they brought to us today because using firewood is very tedious, it comes with so much smoke, my kitchen is so dark from sooth but with these new cookstoves our children will have time to read, do their homework and their mind will focus on academics instead of going to look for firewood and I won’t be having eye problems or constant cough and catarrh. This project is very meaningful,” she stated.
In his remarks, the community secretary, Ezekel Ikpadajovwo pointed out that though cooking is mostly a woman’s task, he took interest in the programme as a way of supporting his wife.
He said, “Though this training programme is mainly for women, I see it as a way by which I can support my wife so that together we will work better because there are some roles needed from me as a man for my wife to be successful. For instance, when we talk of distributing the cookstoves, my wife can be selling and I’ll be supporting her by taking the stoves to other places to sell and also if at anytime she’s tired, I can assist, that’s how to support my wife’s dream.”
Another active participant, Okuraye Victor Oboakproro, an electrical engineer, said he saw the project as a modern way of positively changing the environment, contending that the project would reduce the number of people going into the forest to fetch firewood, curb firewood related accidents, and reduce the cost of buying kerosene because the stoves are cost effective and economical.
“The reason I am interested is that we need change in our society, even in the community at large because this is what will bring change to our way of living. I see it as a modern way of changing our environment, even in the kitchen. It will help the lives of our people because when you consider most of the things we use for cooking before, most of them come with one negative effect or the other but these clean cookstoves portend no danger and they are easy to use and maintain,” he added.
Earlier, the WISE programme director, Ms. Olanike Olugboji said the project aimed to provide solution to the inefficient method of cooking in communities by promoting sustainable fuelwood management.
“One of things we ensure to do is to make sure the communities own the solution that we want to project. We don’t force anything on the communities, we work with them to bring out the solutions from them. We have been able to achieve that. We achieved a reasonable number of our set goals for this capacity building workshop.
“What we do is make sure we tap into the communities and make sure the solution they’re going to project or work with is something that has actually come from them. We’ve seen the community members are even ready to invest their own resources, this shows commitment. And we have some agreed ways of giving something back to the bigger body in the community. This measure will definitely ensure these stoves get to them as entrepreneurs and at the end of the day the project is still able to get the money back to be able to continue buying these stoves and bringing them back to the community,” she added.