Good Evening to all of you and let me extend a very warm welcome or “Selamat Datang” to Malaysia. It is our pleasure to host the Women Deliver Conference this year on a topic that is of critical importance globally and to our country. In addition to your workshop sessions I hope you will be able to make some time to enjoy some of the sites and food that KL has to offer. I’d like to acknowledge the presence of Princess Mabel of the Netherlands and former President of Finland Tarja Halonen and Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
2. Let me begin by saying what a great pleasure it is to be able to join you this evening and to make some opening remarks. I would like to thank the organizers of this event for inviting me, in particular Ms. Radha Muthiah, the Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. I am continually amazed at the ingenious ways being devised to alleviate human suffering and promote human welfare, and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is a fine example of this.
- The Alliance is relatively unique in that it is a true partnership of national governments, the United Nations, foundations, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and, importantly, the private sector. The fact that the target beneficiaries are females, the most vulnerable group of any in the developing world, along with children and the elderly, is a further reason why I am happy to be here and to lend my voice and support.
- The Global Alliance is a pragmatic and down-to-earth response to a problem that has existed since time immemorial. Many of us who live in urban settings often forget the plight of those in the developing world and that something as simple as preparing the family meal can be a real struggle and threat. We take many things for granted, regarding them as ordinary when in fact they are out of reach of all but the urban elites in developing countries.
- Basically those who use traditional cooking methods run all the health risks of very heavy unfiltered smokers. These include respiratory and heart diseases, lung cancer and carbon monoxide poisoning. Smoke from cookstoves is also a leading cause of cataracts and blindness and it causes low birth weight in newborn babies.
- I must admit that I was not aware that smoke from cookstoves was the fifth worst health risk in the developing world and the second among women and girls. The World Health Organization estimates that almost 2 million people die prematurely every year, more than from malaria or tuberculosis. Thus, almost 5,500 people, mostly women and girls, die every single day as a result of smoke from cookstoves.
- Traditional cooking methods also have an environmental impact in the fuel that is needed every day and the residue left behind. For most of the developing world, wood or charcoal are the main cooking fuels. Their collection on a mass and constant scale leads to deforestation, which leads to loss of heat sinks and climate change, causes soil instability and mudslides.
- Of course, the burning of the cooking fuel further exacerbates the problem. It has further been estimated that traditional cookstoves contributes to 20 per cent of all global black carbon emissions. Black carbon, which is the result of incomplete combustion, contributes up to 50 per cent of the carbon dioxide that causes global warming.
- Given all of this, we can see that the dimensions of the problem that the Global Alliance is up against. The solutions that it has come up with fall into three broad categories, namely, clean technologies, clean fuels and behavioural and structural solutions. As far as clean technologies are concerned, there are many options to choose from, ranging from advanced biomass to solar cookstoves. Different societies will respond differently to the cookstove options based on their cultural adaptability and so it is good that the Global Alliance is promoting a variety of choices instead of a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
- In terms of clean fuel as well, there are a range of alternatives from biogas to ethanol and pellets or briquettes of recycled biomass material. Finally, no solution would be complete without efforts to educate and so in so doing change human behavior. There is a need for users to be shown the dangers of traditional cookstoves and, using simple techniques, how to avoid them.
- Having the solutions at its disposal, however, does not automatically mean that the problem of dangerous cookstoves is solved. There is still the highly demanding task of how to ensure that these are translated to effective ground-level solutions. Here again, things appear to have been well thought through.
- On the demand side, as I said earlier, consciousness raising and consumer education is critical to ensuring that the hazards of traditional cookstoves are recognised. Training in the operation and upkeep of clean cookstoves is also seen as vital, as many will be used in very isolated areas, far from support services. The price of clean cookstoves is also a very real constraint for poor households and the range of offerings must be engineered to meet the needs and price points of consumers.
- On the supply side, financing, stakeholder-driven value chains and market intelligence all needs to be strengthened. I am particularly interested to see what can be done to engage local constituents in the process of manufacturing clean cookstoves. This will help ensure that the products are in line with local culture and cost effective, while creating opportunities for employment and income generation. This, I believe, will lead to more sustainable outcomes.
- The problem of traditional cookstoves is a particular one within a milieu of many such issues affecting the developing world. As in this particular case, the availability of solutions is not the major constraint per se. Rather, it is the holistic strategies that are implemented to ensure that that there is traction among local populaces and, of course, that there is sufficient support by all interested parties.
- I would like to see more alliances of the kind that have been developed to combat the problem of cookstoves. Engagement is required at all levels, from international to local, to ensure that all forms of deprivation and threats to health are eradicated from the developing world. After all, the fate of up to 5,500 people a day depend on these efforts.
In closing, I would like to thank again the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to participate in this event and to say these few words. I am greatly encouraged that much creative energy is going into finding ways to solve the world’s problems rather than in compounding them.