An estimated 3 billion households in the world cook on open fires and in developing countries it is estimated that over 50% of the energy consumption is for cooking. The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us that there are two million premature deaths per year from smoke exposure. Inside levels of carbon monoxide are twice that considered dangerous and half of all deaths among children under 5 are from respiratory infections due to indoor air pollution. The April 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives says that “More than three-quarters of the world’s black carbon is thought to come from developing countries, discharged from cook stoves, open burning, and older diesel engines.”
In Guatemala, over 77% of the households burn wood. Eighty-three percent of the fuel consumption is used for cooking, 2% for heating water and 15% for heating. The 10 – 12 trees per year burned by the average family accounts for 90% of the country’s 2% per year deforestation rate. Families in areas where they can gather their own fuel may spend 20 hours per week gathering fuel while it may cost families who have to purchase fuel $200 – 300 per year.
The way women cook in Guatemala seems like something rather insignificant, but it deserves a much closer look because it is an important factor in their quality of life. The most common cooking method used by the indigenous Mayan women is the centuries old “three-stone stove”. It is basically a campfire with three supports for the cooking utensils. There are a number of problems with this method of cooking:
-It is smoky, contributing to wide-spread respiratory problems.
-It is inefficient. There are stoves available that use at least 60% less fuel.
-It’s hazardous. Many children bear the scars of falling into the fire.
Since Cantel is a small town, I wasn’t sure whether they would use the traditional “three-stone stove” or some more sophisticated of stove. What we found was that there are a number of different Kinds of stoves within the Colegio community.
Near the school is a very basic fire raised off the floor. Nearby, another kitchen has a fire setting on a counter like platform, where the adjacent walls are coated with soot.
Another kitchen in the area contains a stove. However, the lady complains that it smokes. Looking at this stove reveals that it has a 6 or 8” stovepipe with no damper and the firebox is about 8” x 16”, with no door to reduce airflow. So, it takes awhile for the stove to create a draft strong enough to pull flue gas out of the room. Meanwhile, the wood smolders and smoke fills the room.
Many people in Cantel have to purchase firewood. In the adjacent picture, a man drives his horse loaded with firewood toward downtown. They came out of the lane across the street from the school.
Below, a man brings home a wheelbarrow load of firewood. He is headed down the lane across the street from the school.
To avoid the problems with wood fires, some people have turned to gas. Like many problems facing us, the people of Cantel have options and people may choose different solutions. In the future, we’ll take another look at this issue.