There are times when you are in the production trenches, plumbing the depths of a story, that you realize how lucky you are to work on QUEST. Assisting QUEST Producer Amy Miller on this segment was yet another occasion to experience such a sentiment, as we found out about the amazing work of Ashok Gadgil and his colleagues to help the women and families who’ve been displaced as a result of the genocide in Darfur.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, in 2005, Ashok Gadgil, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, led a team of four people to north and south Darfur to determine how families were cooking their meals. This may seem like an odd fact-finding mission but it had very real consequences for alleviating the suffering and violence the Darfuri women experience. Every other day, many women leave the relative safety of the refugee camps to travel six to seven hours to collect fuel wood for their meals. In the process, they risk rape and mutilation at the hands of the Janjaweed, a state-sponsored militia which has been lodged in a genocidal fight against Darfuri rebel groups pressing for more autonomy from the government in Khartoum. Three years later, Ashok Gadgil and Ken Chow of Engineers Without Borders are on version eight of the Berkeley Darfur stove, an elegantly simple yet effective ten pound metal stove which is four times more efficient than the traditional three-stone fire with which the Darfur refugees have traditionally cooked. Ashok and his colleagues on the Darfur Stoves Project hope to have five to six manufacturing plants operating in north, west and south Darfur, producing hundreds of thousands of stoves a year from the flat-pack kits of the stove Ken Chow has engineered.

For me, this QUEST segment highlighted how scientists with the brilliance and dedication of Ashok Gadgil can think up solutions to problems that have the potential to alleviate suffering and help the economic lot (each stove saves roughly $250 dollars in fuel wood annually for a Darfuri family) of hundreds of thousands of people existing within the margins of survival. Fortunately, there are organizations, in addition to the Darfur Stoves Project, that are also helping to get more stoves into the hands of Darfuri refugees, including The Hunger Site, Global Giving, The Child Health Site. You can visit these non-profit organizations and purchase a Berkeley Darfur stove on behalf of a family in Darfur, and also make a donation to the U.S. chapter of Engineers Without Borders to support their projects in Asia and Africa.

On a final production note, our QUEST segment about the Darfur Stoves Project was immensely helped by U.N.’s archival footage department and the U.N. Mission in Sudan, both of which gave us footage of the stark conditions in the Darfuri refugee camps. The U.N. High Commission for Refugees also accepts donations for their international humanitarian activities.

  • Marc

    Thanks for the inspiring story. I have read that indoor air pollution from wood-fired cookstoves is a major health problem for women and children. Because the stoves are inside, ventilation is poor, and the fires burn inefficiently, the concentration of smoke and gaseous pollutants in the cooking area is extremely high.

    Have the Darfur stove designers done any comparisons of the pollutant output from their stove and the three-stone method?

  • Hi Marc. This is Sheraz. I assisted Producer Amy Miller on this beautifully produced story. I contacted Dr. Ashok Gadgil about your question. Here’s his response:

    “(You are)correct in commenting that cooking smoke is a very serious health hazard in the developing countries. The cooking is commonly performed in poorly ventilated kitchens, and the smoke exposure is very substantial. However, in Darfur, the refugees live is practically open shelters, made with straw and tarp, with little protection from outdoor wind. Thus, in this case, we expect the dilution of cooking smoke to be unusually rapid in these shelters, reducing exposure of the cooks.

    Our preliminary tests suggest that compared to a three stone fire, the Berkeley Darfur stove emits ~45% less carbon monoxide (CO) and ~45% less mass of particulate matter (the aerosol mass) as smoke, for equivalent thermal output into a cooking pot. We plan to undertake more careful emissions testing this summer.”

  • Mary Jane Holmes

    Every time I see an article about these stoves, I wonder why solar stoves – that don’t use any wood – aren’t being used. There are some extremely sophisticated solar stoves out there.

  • Amy

    Solar stoves can not be used in Darfur. If you go to Darfurstoves.org. There is a Lab report posted. In it, the team describes encountering Solar stoves. They checked the stoves out and considered using them. However, the solar stoves did not producee enought heat to cook the food that the refugee eat. Also. using s sophisticted stove in the IDP camps would not be cost efficient.

  • Pingback: The Darfur Stoves Project()

  • It’s based on the rocket stove, but it doesn’t look as efficient as the Aprovecho designs. There are all kinds of variations, that are not hard or expensive to make. I did some experiments with rocket stoves (and also solar cookers). I posted the results on the alternative-energy-source.org website. The information is free, if anyone is interested in alternative cooking methods.

  • Darfur is not suitable for using solar stoves. It didn’t produce enough heat to prepare the food for those refugee and it’s not right idea.

Author

Sheraz Sadiq

Sheraz Sadiq is an Emmy Award-winning producer at San Francisco PBS affiliate KQED. In 2012, he received the AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award for a story he produced about the seismic retrofit of the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system which serves the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to producing television content for KQED Science, he has also created online features and written news articles on scientific subjects ranging from astronomy to synthetic biology.

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