While working in Guatemala, the health care charity HELPS became concerned by the numbers of patients suffering from burns and breathing problems as a result of cooking on open wood fires. Nor was that the only problem. The use of wood was adding to the severe deforestation in the country as trees were ripped up for firewood.
HELPS set about designing a cleaner and more fuel-efficient stove, that was robust. However, their priority was not just the stove, but developing a network of manufacturers and installers which could benefit the local economy and its skills.
The 'Onil' stove parts are made in local factories from concrete and ceramic with a steel chimney to take away smoke. Originally costing US$68 in 2003, the stove is sold in kits. Local groups, usually NGOS, are encouraged to take on the project by purchasing kits from HELPS and then providing installation and support. HELPS in turn provided the training for installers. HELPS was keen that users made some payment towards the stove with the local groups helping with financing.
The project has been a huge success, and not only in Guatemala. By 2009, 106,000 stoves were in use in about 80,000 households in Guatemala, Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America, benefitting over 600,000 people. With fuelwood savings of around 60%, greenhouse gas emissions are cut by an estimated 320,000 tonnes/year CO2. As significantly the project has provided jobs with two dedicated component factories in Guatemala and one in Mexico.
What was originally a health issue is now an economic and environmental success. And the news is good on the health front too. Burns and respiratory problems are much reduced.