Scientists have designed a cookstove that could make life a little easier for refugees in the Darfur area of Sudan. It might also help reduce the loss of forests in poor countries where trees are cut down as fuel for cooking fires.
The scientists are from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley. Two of them, Ashok Gadgil and Christina Galitsky, went to Darfur late last year. They found that many refugee families were missing meals for lack of fuel.
The light metal stove uses only about one-fourth as much wood as the cooking method currently used in the camps. That method is known as the three-stone fire. Less need for fuel would mean less need for women to leave the camps to search for wood and risk being attacked in violence-torn Darfur.
Since that visit, the researchers have improved the stove. Now they are trying to set up production. They estimate that the stoves could be built locally in Darfur for about fifteen dollars each. They say about three hundred thousand are needed. The hope is to begin producing five thousand stoves by the end of the year.
Ashok Gadgil says his team agrees with aid organizations that the stoves should not be given away free of charge. If they are free, he says, they will be undervalued. People might then try to sell them for the value of the metal. The scientists say microlending programs could help people buy the stoves with loans if they do not have enough money. And people could use borrowed money to start their own stove-building business.
San Francisco area members of Engineers Without Borders-USA are providing engineering support for the project. The groups working on the Darfur Cookstoves Project are also seeking donations to support their work. The project has a Web site. The address is darfurstoves.lbl.gov.
During the nineteen nineties, Ashok Gadgil invented a water-purifying system that won awards for its design. The system is called UV Waterworks. It uses ultraviolet light to disinfect water of viruses and bacteria. And it can be powered by a car battery or energy from the sun.
Now there is another award-winning water-purifying device on the market. The Vestergaard Frandsen Group, a Danish company with headquarters in Switzerland, invented the LifeStraw last year. The LifeStraw won an award from a nonprofit organization in Denmark that honors designs to improve life.
The LifeStraw is a thick plastic tube twenty-five centimeters long. You place one end into water and drink from the other. The water passes through a series of filters to catch extremely small particles. Iodine and active carbon are also used in the cleaning process. It takes about eight minutes to filter one liter.
Vestergaard Frandsen says the LifeStraw kills organisms that spread diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid and cholera. The device filters most bacteria and parasites. But it has limits, including against viruses. Also, it does not remove arsenic or other heavy metals from water.
The LifeStraw costs about three dollars. It can be worn on a string around the neck. It has a lifetime of up to seven hundred liters, or about one year. The company notes that each day, worldwide, more than six thousand children and adults die from unsafe drinking water.