Cookstoves are finally getting serious attention. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves last fall, an initiative led by the United Nations Foundation to replace cookstoves whose indoor air pollution that kills almost two million people a year. She said the United States would contribute $50 million to the effort over five years, and called on others to join the Alliance and raise $250 million over 10 years.

Secretary Clinton’s leadership of this effort is a powerful force for change, but as she reminded her New York audience, “well-meaning efforts have been launched before, but none have managed to match the scope of the challenge.”

The World Bank is among many organizations involved in these “well-meaning efforts.” Like others, the Bank has supported projects that seek solutions to protect women and girls from the pneumonia, respiratory diseases and premature death caused by toxic smoke, as well as to stem the deforestation and black carbon associated with biomass cooking fuels. With more than 20 years’ experience, it is time for the Bank to draw some lessons.

A recent study by World Bank household energy experts Koffi Ekouevi and Voravate Tuntivate does just that. Ekouevi and Tuntivate reviewed 19 household cooking projects supported by the Bank since 1989.

Their study, Household Energy Access for Cooking and Heating: Lessons Learned and the Way Forward, confirms that many of the Global Alliance’s approaches are promising, but adds a few more. It provides eight lessons in all, namely:
  1. <b>A holistic approach to household fuels is needed</b>: the fuel-wood supply has to be sustainable; improved stoves and alternative fuels are needed; and institutions must be able to create and implement regulatory incentives that work.
  2. <b>Public awareness campaigns are needed</b>: households need to be informed of the risks they face by using inefficient stoves.
  3. <b>Local communities must be involved early on</b>: this includes governments, NGOs and the private sector.
  4. <b>Consumer fuel subsidies don’t help poor people</b>. Wealthier households benefit the most from subsidies, which cause fiscal deficits.
  5. <b>Both market-based and public support are needed to commercialize cookstoves</b>. A cookstove market is the best long-term solution, but public support is needed at the early stages.
  6. <b>Cookstove users’ needs must come first</b>: users who get what they want from cookstoves will adopt them.
  7. <b>Durability of cookstoves is important</b>: durable stoves made of good quality materials will get used.
  8. <b>Microfinance helps cookstove programs succeed</b>.

The eight lessons offer valuable guidance for such action, drawn from what has worked — and what hasn't — in the past. The report concludes with guidance on what the World Bank can do to seize this momentum, both on its own, and with its partners.

<i>By Christopher Neal, Senior Communications Officer, Transport, Water and Information and Communication Technology

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