SEATTLE– Information from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that, “Around three billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.” These dirty cooking and heating methods can cause health problems and even death. The WHO says indoor pollution is responsible for 4.3 million premature deaths in developing countries from diseases like pneumonia, stroke and lung cancer.
Dirty fuels not only impact health. The WHO claims, “Fuel gathering consumes considerable time for women and children, limiting other productive activity (e.g. income generation) and taking children away from school.” Generating clean stoves, heaters and fuels can therefore benefit both the health and economic standing of people living in deep poverty.
Amy Smith, who made The 2010 Time 100 for her work in developing countries, uses basic engineering to develop clean cooking fuels. According to Time Magazine, Smith’s goal is to “create simple machines that meet particular needs and then build them locally.” Smith wants to improve people’s lives with resources they have available, and with simple technology that can be used widely. She wants people to be able to improve their own lives without having to make impossible investments.
In Haiti, Smith was able to develop a method for people to convert a local waste product that nobody used into a clean burning fuel. The conversion process is simple and inexpensive, which means people can produce their own fuel at a very low cost. Replacing wood as a fuel also means fewer trees will be cut down, reducing deforestation.
Smith told TED Ideas Worth Spreading that with her invention, “not only do you have health benefits, you also have environmental benefits. But this is also one of the incredibly rare situations where you also have economic benefits.” As such, Smith shows that when engineering is geared toward fixing local problems, with local resources and available abilities communities can be transformed from within.
When Smith completed the project in Haiti she was working and teaching in the MIT based D-Lab. D-Lab’s motto is “Development through Discovery, Design and Dissemination.” Currently the lab continues to invest in developing cleaner cooking fuels in other areas of the world.
The latest action is in Uganda. In collaboration with MIT’s D-Lab, Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves held a design summit in Uganda where engineers taught locals the basics of improving their own lives with local materials. Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves said, “The Summit sought to bring a diverse set of participants together to develop scalable technologies that are high-performing, affordable and designed to meet user needs.”
American ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac was very happy with the results of the Summit. Malac told New Vision News, “We see how these technologies can spur economic growth and how they have the potential to lift millions of people from the depths of poverty.” The Summit demonstrates large sums of money are not required to fight poverty. Often the only help needed is instruction on how to change things from the bottom up
– Christina Egerstrom