Energy and development: Did you cook your coffee with wood or with charcoal today? | Mina Weydahl

09 Oct 2013

woman with gas stove Christine Kyomugasho, 67, cooks using bio gas at her home in Uganda. (Photo: Matthias Mugisha/UNDP Uganda)

With few exceptions, all of us engage in some sort of cooking every day, in various ways, and sometimes with varying success. Some of us cook with an electric stove, some with gas stoves, some cook outside, some inside. 2.7 billion people across the world cook with traditional stoves and with wood, charcoal and other so-called “traditional fuels.”

Cooking with wood or charcoal is a bit more challenging than cooking with gas or electricity. First of all, it’s trickier to get – whether I buy wood or charcoal at the market or I actually go to the forest and get the wood myself, it takes a lot longer than turning on a gas flame or an electric stove. In the state of Himachal Pradesh in India, for example, rural women typically spend 40 hours collecting fuel every month, many of them walking more than 6 kilometers round trip.

Secondly, traditional fuel is a lot heavier – a family cooking with wood will use, on average, 2400 kilograms per year. This can contribute to deforestation in areas where wood is the only affordable and available option.

Thirdly, wood and charcoal produce more smoke than a gas or electric stove, depending on what I cook with. Modern cookstoves burn more efficiently and cleanly than a three-stone fire or a traditional stove. Cooking smoke coming from traditional fuel and stoves is dangerous to people's health and kills more than 3.5 million people each year – the equivalent of the entire population of Vienna and Paris combined.

The "Sustainable Energy for All" initiative aims to achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030. Shifting from a traditional stove to a modern one can significantly reduce indoor pollution, save hours of time every day, and reduce the pressure on forests. Nearly half the world’s population cooks with traditional fuel such as wood and charcoal to prepare their daily meals, and changing the way they cook can be one of the most efficient solutions to increase access to modern energy.

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