Bloomberg News raises a question about the popular movement to improve cook stoves in poor countries around the world — a question that they apply to all aid, especially the social enterprise, privately run kind of aid that often has little accountability.
The editorial board asks “Can Cleaner Cook Stoves Save the World?”
Actually, yes maybe. Turns out, wood-fired cook stoves used by more than a billion poor people every day do a surprising amount of harm — to people and to the environment — contributing to an astonishing amount of lung disease, deforestation, poverty and the kinds of gases that promote climate change. A better cook stove could make a difference.
And so claim many private “social enterprise” business and other organizations (many of them here in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest). This has led to a lot of enthusiasm and funding for clean cook stove initiatives.
The problem, say some experts, is that the evidence so far doesn’t appear to indicate getting new, cleaner cook stoves is actually helping the poor: New studies poke hole in cook stove claim or the limits of technology.
All of this is not to say the poor don’t need better cook stoves or that the world would not benefit from getting them to use better, cleaner cook stoves. They would and we would. It just means we need to design a better movement for designing better stoves — one based on evidence as much as enthusiasm.