Monday, July 16, 2007

Stoves from Berkeley Scientists Saving Lives in Darfur

Think about this one for a moment? What would you do without your microwave oven?

"I'd be fine," you say.

Alright, what would do you without your gas or electric stove?

"That might be tougher," you answer.

Okay, try this scenario on for size. You live in a war torn country where you've been forced into a refugee camp in the desert. To feed your family you cook over an open fire but this is the desert. There is little to no wood and everyone in the camp is scrambling for the same few scraps. That's bad enough, but you HAVE to cook and eat, so the only solution is to walk and hunt for wood outside the boundaries of the camp. You've watched the neighbor women put on a brave face and leave the safety of the group. As much as seven hours later you've seen them return, exhausted, with small arm loads of wood. Some of them return with glazed over expressions, limping, or crying. They've been raped, beaten or terrorized by militants but they had to go. To send the men out for wood would mean certain death. The men are simply slaughtered on sight. This is what you face to feed your children. So tell me, as you pour your second cup of hot coffee, if this woman were you, what now?

Ashok Gadgil, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkely National Labortory in California has an answer. It's called the Berkely-Darfur Stove. The simple but clever design uses 75% less firewood than an open fire and 50% less than a traditional clay cookstove. What does this mean to the women of Darfur? Less trips away from the safety of the camp to gather wood.

What does this mean to Darfur's severely depleated environment? Time for vegetation to recover and reclaim the land.

What does this mean for the people of Darfur who desperately want to have normal self-sufficent lives again? It means a way to make money. The Berkeley-Darfur Stove is designed in such a way that it can be produced with simple tools and materials.

There are many advantages to cooking in this manner. Using open fires on the desert plains with constant winds often results in fires, burning down shelters and tents. Also, wood is so scarce that refugees have taken to exchanging or selling their food rations to barter for fuel. The stove dramatically drops the need for more fuel and give the families the option of holding onto their food and using it for nutrition instead of currency.

The partnership is offering the stoves to the refugees for a very small lease to own fee and providing help in a start-up manufactoring process. In this way, Dr. Gadgil and his associates feel they are empowering the refugees instead of making beggers out of a proud people.

The Darfur Stoves Project is taking donations, looking for businesses willing to do corporate funds matching, and groups to hold fundaraisers. Newsweek Magazine ran an informative article on the project in the July 16th issue and OPRAH Magazine highlighted Darfur Stoves in its June issue.

In a time when it's easy to throw up your hands and say, "What can I do? The problems are just too big. Think of the Berkeley-Darfur Stove Project and the impact and empowerment five little pieces of shaped steel can give to persons life.

To read more about this project go to

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