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This stove installation project targets two main issues:

1) Overcoming health issues in indigenous populations of Guatemala, due to exposure to and inhalation of smoke; and

2) The ever-increasing threat of deforestation in Guatemala and its consequences.

  • 77% of Guatemalan families use wood as their main fuel source
  • 90% of wood cut annually in Guatemala is for fuel
  • 2% of Guatemala’s forest is lost each year
  • In Guatemalan homes, the breakdown of wood use is: 83% of fuel wood for cooking, 2% for heating water, and 15% for heating homes.

Traditionally, the impoverished Maya people cook on open fires inside the home resulting in inefficient wood use and a variety of serious health issues. Installing efficient, enclosed wood burning stoves is a simple, cost effective way to decrease deforestation and remove smoke from the home, increasing the overall health and quality of life of the Maya people.

 

Health Risks            

Smoke from indoor cooking fires kills 1.6 million people per year (nearly one million of those are children). A typical indoor fire creates carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes at anywhere between seven and 500 times over the allowable limits in the United States. This is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

The World Bank rated indoor air pollution in developing countries as one of the four most critical global environmental problems. The burden of this smoke is placed primarily on women and children. According to the World Health Organization, one out of five children in Guatemala dies before age 5.

They further state that the leading cause of death in this age range is acute respiratory infection (from breathing the heavy smoke of cooking fires). Furthermore, upper respiratory infection is the number one killer of women in Guatemala. Living in a smoke-free environment increases life expectancy by 10 to 15 years.

 The following is a list of commonly occurring ailments due to open fires inside the home:

  • Respiratory problems commonly associated with open fires are one of the top worldwide causes of mortality in children under five.
  • Asthma and pneumonia
  • Cancer
  • Stunted lung growth in children
  • Tuberculosis
  • Burns and scalds
  • Eye irritation, infections, cataracts, and pterygiums (irregular growths on the cornea that can lead to partial blindness)
  • Pregnancy problems
  • Hernias in men and women due to excessive strain involved in carrying fire-wood on the back.

In addition, despite the efforts of health workers many poor Guatemalans still do not boil drinking water to kill biological contaminants. This is viewed as a luxury given the scarcity of firewood. Stoves allow the user to boil water on the back burners while cooking tortillas, or other food, on the front burners without having to use additional firewood.

 

Deforestation  

In the department of Sololá deforestation means more than soil erosion, loss of animal habitat and loss of oxygen producing trees. Sololá, as other parts of Guatemala, are in a drought zone where it does not rain for up to six consecutive months every year. During this time of drought there would be no drinking water without the forest there to ensure proper balance of underground springs, which supply communities with their drinking water. These ecologically crucial trees are being cut down at an alarming rate.

The continual cutting of trees for firewood in these areas is endangering vital watersheds and leading to desertification. Around the world, 15,000 acres of land are lost to desert every hour. Unfortunately, planting new trees, though extremely important, is not enough. In order, to stop the effects of desertification mature trees must be saved. As the project region becomes more populated and less forested, drinking water is becoming a precious commodity.

For the Maya people, the proposed locally produced wood-burning stove has made significant improvements in the efficiency of cooking with fire. Up to 85% of energy generated by an open fire is wasted. However, when constructed and used correctly, a wood-burning stove reduces firewood consumption by half. For example, the average family will burn the equivalent of 10-12 trees per year in an open fire, versus 5 or 6 with an efficient wood-burning stove. The result is a dramatic decrease of wood consumption, while allowing for traditional cooking techniques to continue.

  • San Marcos la Laguna has approximately 450 families. If every family cooked with an open fire 4500 a 5400 trees would be needed each year to supply fuel wood needs.

  • The target communities for this project are vital watersheds for the surrounding areas, providing more than 20,000 people with water.
  • One mature tropical tree will emit three million gallons of water vapor into the air in its lifetime