Saturday, January 31, 2009

Solar Cooker Project

(Video Duration: 5:55)


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Chad-Darfur Refugee Camps

Alternative Fuels Take Root in Refugee Camps
By Rebecca Laks, December 9, 2008

The land surrounding Kalma camp in South Darfur is dotted with small craters. Much of this landscaping has been done by women who live in the largest refugee camp in Sudan. They walk for hours scavenging the arid environs for firewood to use for cooking or to sell to support their families. First the women cut down the few existing trees in the area, and then when no trees are left they dig up the roots, leaving the ground pock-marked.

Families in Darfur have traditionally cooked with wood over open flame, but the practice has become linked to many problems. Women are raped and assaulted while collecting firewood. The environment is degraded. Women suffer respiratory illness from cooking smoke, and open flames pose a hazard in crowded camps.

In response, humanitarian organizations are introducing alternative fuels and energy technologies to Darfur and refugee camps worldwide, and businesses and relief organizations will come together this week at the first Beyond Firewood conference in New Delhi, India, to discuss energy-related ideas and products.

Although humanitarian organizations provide food and shelter, they often overlook cooking fuel, said Erin Patrick, a Senior Program Officer at the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, in a phone interview with Policy Innovations. The Women's Commission has pioneered efforts to help women avoid danger while they collect firewood and to raise awareness about safe access to cooking fuel through its Get Beyond Firewood campaign and an international network of organizations, donors, and technology experts who share information on fuel projects.

Humanitarian food rations often consist of hard grains, lentils, and beans that must be cooked at length, requiring a substantial amount of firewood. In the Darfur and Chad camps, a staple dish is assida, or ugali as it is known in many east African countries, which is porridge made from millet, sorghum, flour, or other slow-cooking grains.

Fuel-efficient stoves have been a common energy intervention in Darfur. The stoves can reduce the amount of firewood consumed by 20 to 80 percent, especially when combined with cooking techniques such as pre-soaking beans and lentils, thoroughly milling grains, and sheltering cooking fires from the wind. A stove can cost as little as one dollar, and some last up to three years, but camp conditions are far from ideal laboratory conditions and stoves often perform less efficiently than expected.

Typical fuel strategies have been small scale, ad hoc, and rarely use a combination of alternative fuels and technologies. The Get Beyond Firewood campaign has been trying to change that. "What works in Nepal is not what works in Darfur, which is not what works in Chad," said Ms. Patrick.

A different type of cooking device, the solar cooker, is being used by Darfuri refugees in the Iridimi, Touloum, and Oure Cassoni camps of eastern Chad where the sun shines brightly 330 days a year. Jewish World Watch (JWW) partnered with Kozon, a Dutch NGO, to introduce the CooKit, a small, lightweight solar cooker made of cardboard and aluminum foil. Families have one cooker for corn meal and another for water, sauce, or vegetables on rare occasions.

JWW reports that as of May 2007 more than 15,000 cookers had been distributed in Iridimi camp. JWW pays camp women to assemble the cookers and to train other refugees to use them. A family using two solar cookers can save up to one ton of firewood per year, and JWW reports that women's trips outside of the Iridimi camp have gone down by 86 percent, which may also be because trees are increasingly scarce.

The solar cookers must be replaced every 3 to 6 months, as their cardboard frames are fairly flimsy. And women have complained that the CooKits cook slowly—rice can take up to one and a half hours and a liter of water takes 30 minutes to boil—and food cannot be fried.

Back in Darfur, communities have continued to rebuff solar cooking. Ms. Patrick surmises that this resistance is due in large part to "parachuting"—NGOs dropping solar cooking technology into the camps, and doing little in the way of training or raising awareness in a culture used to cooking over an open flame and to the smoky flavors produced by firewood.

The Get Beyond Firewood campaign has also called for better collaboration and communication among humanitarian organizations. Program information is often lost due to frequent staff turnover, and duplication of efforts and poor communication can be common.

Meanwhile, the availability of firewood in Darfur is dwindling, and women in North Darfur have all but stopped collecting firewood simply because there is none to collect, said Ms. Patrick. The Sudanese Forestry Department has reported total destruction of the environment up to a radius of an hour's walk around the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Darfur—there are virtually no trees and the mining of their roots has prevented regrowth. 

Solar Cooker Project Banner

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Solar Cooker?
A solar cooker works on the premise that heat from the sun has the capacity to heat something—say a pot—to the point of cooking the food inside. Reflection is the method used to capitalize on the natural amount of heat off of a surface, like foil. The reflected solar heat can then be transmitted through a transparent surface (a plastic bag), which lets heat in but not escape. Once the heat has been absorbed inside to warm the pot, that heat is transferred to the food. Cardboard lined with a reflective surface (tin foil), when assembled to certain specifications, can not only harness, but cook with energy from the abundant sun!

What Is Involved in Equipping an Entire Refugee Camp?
For the first year of implementing the project, we start by introducing the concept to the elders of the camp, including the President of the Refugees and the President of the Women Refugees. When the camp leadership is supportive of introducing solar cooking, a team of committed refugees is trained to work with the Solar Cooker Project. A manufacturing plant and store room are built and materials are transported into the camp. Materials include: cardboard, foil, Gum Arabic (glue), and supplies to make carrying bags and heat retention baskets. Refugee employees begin the manufacture of the cookers, while other women serve as trainers to educate the women and girls in the proper use of the cookers. Distribution begins with each family receiving two cookers (and more for larger families). After the entire camp is completely trained, a maintenance program is instituted to repair and replace cookers as needed.  
How Long Do the Cookers Last?
According to a recent evaluation, most cookers last three to six months. However, new cookers outfitted with wind and rain protection are expected to last up to one year.

Where And How Are the Cookers Made?
An important part of the Solar Cooker Project is the income-generating aspect. Rather than sending the assembled cookers straight to the camps, some women work in the manufacturing plant where they receive the component parts for the cookers to be manufactured on site. Income-generating jobs include cutting the cardboard, gluing foil to the cardboard, painting pots black to absorb heat, and sewing the heat-retention bags.

What Kind of Food Is Made in the Cookers?
The cookers are capable of making all the traditional foods the refugees eat: rice, macaroni, la boule (traditional millet or maize-based meal), la bouillie (porridge), millet, wheat, beans, lentils, yellow peas, sweet potatoes, meat, sauces and tea (provided all these things are available). Solar cookers provide for the opportunity to make protein-rich grains, which would otherwise require too much firewood.

Can a Solar Cooker Boil Water and Kill Bacteria?
Yes. The cookers do boil water; usually not a rolling boil, but it does reach 100ºC, 212ºF. However, water does not have to be “sterile” to be safe to consume—safe water only has to be pasteurized (at 65ºC, 150ºF), partially sterilized, to kill the bacteria that causes human disease.

If the Cooker Is Made Out of Cardboard,Won’t It Catch Fire?
No. Paper burns at 451ºF; the cooker doesn’t get that hot.

Does Solar Cooking Help the Environment?
Yes. Two solar cookers can save one ton of wood per year.

What Does My $30 Donation Do?
A $30 donation allows JWW to supply one family with two solar cookers, two cook-pots, two pot holders, a year supply of plastic bags, and training to use the cookers.

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Solar Cooker Project Donation


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