NEW YORK (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Tuesday a U.S. contribution of some $50 million toward providing clean cooking stoves in developing countries to reduce deaths from smoke inhalation and fight climate change.
The U.S. funding, which will be spread over five years, is part of a Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves launched to combat a problem officials equate with malaria and unclean water in terms of its health impact worldwide.
Some 1.9 million premature deaths, mostly among women and young children, occur every year due to smoke inhalation from rudimentary stoves, which in many cases consist of a few stones and an open fire inside or outside a shelter, officials said.
Smoke from such cooking methods can lead to childhood pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease while contributing to climate change through emissions of carbon dioxide and methane — two major greenhouse gases — and black carbon.
“People have cooked over open fires and dirty stoves for all of human history, but the simple fact is they are slowly killing millions of people and polluting the environment,” Secretary Clinton said at the Clinton Global Initiative conference founded by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
“I know that maybe this sounds hard to believe, but by upgrading these stoves, millions of lives could be saved and improved. This could be as transformative as bed nets or even vaccines,” she said.
Better cooking technology is available at affordable prices. More efficient stoves with better combustion, which reduces production of smoke, can be purchased for $10 to $100, according to one senior U.S. administration official.
Getting the stoves to target areas — India, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were cited as having acute need — and creating a market for them is part of the alliance’s mission.
The alliance groups U.S. government agencies with the United Nations Foundation, Germany, Peru, Norway, the World Health Organization and corporate backers including Morgan Stanley and Shell, among others.
It has raised $10 million on top of the $50 million pledged by the United States and hopes to reach at least $250 million over 10 years, Clinton said.
“This is something that touches on climate, on health, on women’s empowerment, on deforestation and on poverty,” Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, said in an interview.
He said the group would seek to create a market for cleaner, less-polluting stoves and fuels to supply some 500 million households worldwide now using inefficient and dangerous cooking methods. The alliance seeks to have 100 million homes adopt cleaner stoves and fuels by 2020.
“You’re not going to solve this problem with aid alone,” Detchon said. “You’re going to have to create a thriving cookstove industry that can supply both stoves and fuels that people want and need.”
Clinton said the funding and alliance work would focus on improving designs, lowering costs and creating a market for the improved stoves.
“There are already some good stoves out there, but we can make them much more durable, efficient, and affordable, and scale up production to reach a mass market,” she said.
Reducing trade barriers and increasing awareness among consumers would also be on the to-do list.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman