Eco-reporter Georgia Woodroffe conducted this interview with George Basch of the Himalayan Stove Project shortly before the devastating earthquake hit Nepal.
Household Air Pollution (HAP) affects more than three billion people — almost half of the world’s population. The U.S.-based non-profit The Himalayan Stove Project, founded by George Basch, provides free, clean burning, vented and highly fuel-efficient cook stoves to households in Nepal. These stoves are designed to combat the environmental damage caused by rudimentary stoves, and drastically improve the living conditions in many households. Basch says, “Everybody is concerned about the Ebola outbreak, but less than 10,000 people have died. It certainly needs to be dealt with, but if you take the 4.3 million people who die prematurely every year due to household air pollution, and divide that by 365, that’s more than 10,000 every day. It’s a massive global issue which is essentially below the radar of most people.” The World Health Organization points out that HAP is the fourth largest cause of health problems and death in the world, killing more people every year than malaria, HIV and TB combined.
Set up in 2010, Basch’s project relies on donations to help those in need. So far the project has distributed over 3,000 stoves. The project is part of a network of clean stove projects around the world.
Basch emphasizes the importance of the project for the environment when he says, “The population of Nepal is growing very rapidly. When I first visited the country in 2001, the population was 19 million and now it is over 30 million. This alone has a significant impact on the forest environment. We are making microscopic progress as we have only distributed 3,000 stoves, but every stove cuts the fuel consumption of a household by 75 percent. This has a direct environmental impact, and a significant social impact as people don’t have to spend as much time gathering wood.” Where villagers usually used yak dung, which is prevalent in areas where there are no trees, they now leave the dung, which enriches the poor soil. “Since our stoves can reduce 90 percent of smoke and carbon emissions from cooking, this also helps with the whole issue of global warming.”
The men who invented these stoves — Tim Bauer and Nathan Lorenz, hold PhDs in mechanical engineering and work at Colorado State University. They have designed 20 different stove models that work with the different fuels used around the world. The stoves are part of a project called Envirofit, with the Himalayan Stove Project being one of the few programs that distribute the burners according to a charitable model. Basch explains, “These stoves cost us around $150 to be made and delivered, with a two-pot accessory that accompanies them. With the average earnings in Nepal around $20 a month, we chose to do this on a philanthropic basis.”
With the recent earthquake strike on Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and the large number of aftershocks that followed it, Basch and his team are doing all they can to help those affected. He adds, “We have worked with partners to identify the areas and the needs for immediate emergency relief and ongoing rebuilding and restoration […] we continue to deliver food, water, health care and, crucially, shelter, because the upcoming monsoons pose a real threat on many levels.”
Envirofit has also come out with a new stove design for mass feeding. These Envirofit 100-liter commercial stoves will be used to feed the many people left homeless by the quake. Basch noted that the first shipment of stoves was on its way to Nepal with an estimated delivery of early June.
The Himalayan Stove Project could not been timelier, and it remains committed to distributing its little burners for the good of the environment and the people.
All photos are courtesy of George Basch of Basch Photography