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Wood-saving cookstoves are helping Zambia cut forest loss

A UNDP-GEF partnership is promoting energy-saving stoves in Zambia’s rural communities in support of the government’s efforts to cut forest loss, clean up cooking, save lives and curb climate change

“The energy-saving stoves will transform the way women cook in rural communities. It will also help cut forest loss, save lives, improve livelihoods and protect the environment at the same time,” said Israel Dessalegne, UNDP resident representative (ad interim) in Zambia.

According to the 2015 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey Report by the Central Statistical Office, four per cent of Zambia’s rural people have access to electricity and wood fuel or charcoal constitute a major source of energy for cooking, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the total number of households nationwide.

The Government of the Republic of Zambia has set a goal for universal electricity access for all Zambians by 2030. Energy has been identified as an important driving force behind economic development in Zambia, and the government has declared its commitment to developing and maintaining energy infrastructure and services.

Health risks

With unreliable electricity, many rural families are often forced to depend on wood fuel or paraffin lanterns as a primary source of lighting or burning wood, which emit soot and harmful smoke. Experts say this not only can lead to premature death due to diseases but can also cause fire accidents and burn injuries in addition to fuelling deforestation.

The use of open fires and solid fuels for cooking is one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems, directly impacting close to half the world’s population and causing nearly 4 million premature deaths each year, according to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Finding a solution

To address these challenges, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is funding a bold new approach to community-based natural resources management through the United Nations Development Programme in partnership with the government to help cut forest loss, curb climate change and simultaneously clean up cooking and reduce health problems.

The project - Strengthening Management Effectiveness and Generating Multiple Environmental Benefits Within and Around the Greater Kafue National Park and West Lunga National Park in Zambia – is promoting the conservation and management of forests in a sustainable manner, through the promotion of innovative initiatives such as community fire management and sustainable firewood harvesting.

Easing rural life

The stove - known locally as ‘bitofu byankunyi,’ a Kaonde(a Bantu language spoken primarily in Zambia) phrase that means a stove that uses less firewood for food preparation - costs US$7 to build and it is made from soil and other locally available raw materials.

Kikwanda and Walubita are among beneficiaries from more than 5,000 households in Central, Western and North-western Zambia who are now using the stoves as part of a UNDP-GEF partnership with the Zambian Government to cut forest loss while indirectly promoting clean cooking.

“The energy-saving stoves not only reduce air pollution but significantly reduces firewood consumption and saves cooking times for women,” said Peter Sinyungu, one of 14 National United Nations Volunteer Community Liaison Assistants with UNDP - raising awareness on the sustainable use of natural resources and the need to protect forests in order to preserve rainfall.