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Women's Refugee Commission Welcomes Clean Stoves Initiative

September 21, 2010

The Women's Refugee Commission welcomes the announcement today by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The alliance, a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation, aims to provide 100 million clean stoves to people in developing countries by 2020. It will work in cooperation with leading international nongovernmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions, corporate leaders, governments, UN agencies and local NGOs, women’s self-help groups and community members. The United States made an initial contribution of $50 million to the alliance, which hopes to raise $100 million.

“We are thrilled to see the international community taking on the issue of clean cookstoves in such a big way,” said Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women's Refugee Commission. “Since 2005 we have been advocating for safe access to cooking fuel in humanitarian settings, and for the development of fuel-efficient stoves. We strongly urge the new Alliance to pay particular attention to the specific—and life-threatening—fuel needs of populations displaced by conflict or natural disasters.”

Cooking fuel is a critical issue that touches on nearly every facet of the daily life of millions of families. Every year, some 1.9 million people around the world die as a result of burning wood on open stoves. Because they spend the most time near fires while cooking, women and their children are particularly vulnerable to a range of health problems, including lung and eye diseases. Women and girls displaced by conflict or natural disaster also risk rape and sexual assault when they leave the relative safety of camps to gather wood to cook the food that is provided by humanitarian agencies, or to sell. As trees and other vegetation are harvested, women and girls must walk farther and farther to collect wood, increasing their vulnerability. In addition, girls may miss out on education opportunities as they spend hours each day foraging for cooking fuel or stay at home to watch younger siblings as their mothers collect firewood. Young girls are also the most common victims of burns and scalds from improperly tended open fires.

The Women's Refugee Commission has led efforts by the international community, supported by the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, to develop the first-ever global guidance documents to focus on the need to ensure safe access to appropriate cooking fuel in humanitarian settings from the start of every emergency. The matrix on agency roles and responsibilities for developing a coordinated fuel strategy defines the key fuel-related activities that must occur in order to achieve an effective fuel response in new and ongoing humanitarian crises, and decision tree diagrams illustrate factors affecting the choice of fuel strategy—recognizing, for example, the difference in staple foods and cooking habits across different settings.

The Women's Refugee Commission, with the support of the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, is currently working with the World Food Programme (WFP) on its efforts to ensure safe access to cooking fuel for women and girls in Haiti, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. One facet of the joint effort is an initiative to provide tens of thousands of fuel-efficient stoves to women in these areas. In addition to targeting women's safe access to fuel, the project works to promote and support alternative livelihoods options so that women are not forced to rely on the sale of collected firewood or charcoal production as a primary or source of income.

“We welcome the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ commitment to manufacture stoves locally, which could provide much-needed livelihoods for displaced communities,” said Costa. “Safe access to cooking fuel and the means to earn a living are both essential aspects of protection for refugee women and girls.”

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Click here for more on the Women's Refugee Commission’s Fuel and Firewood Initiative.

Click here to read our blog piece on clean stoves and safe access to cooking fuel.

Click here to read our letter to the editor in the New York Times.