[Stoves] npr: Safer, More Efficient Stoves Spread In Latin America
tmiles at trmiles.com
Fri Jan 16 20:23:58 CST 2009
Safer, More Efficient Stoves Spread In Latin America
by John <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1936301>
Jessica Karina Xeron, 11, makes tortillas on her family's Onil stove in the
Mayan town of Alotenango, Guatemala.
Don O'Neal, the retired mechanical engineer who invented the Onil stove
(shown here in his workshop), is developing a new stove.
Day to Day <http://www.npr.org/templates/rundowns/rundown.php?prgId=17> ,
January 15, 2009 . For a long time, one of the holy grails of rural
development has been a simple stove to replace the dangerous and inefficient
open fires used in villages around the world.
A stove designed by an engineer in Texas may be that wonder stove. Its use
began in Guatemala. Now, its popularity is spreading.
Its story begins in North Texas, at the house of a 75-year-old retired
mechanical engineer named Don O'Neal.
After an illustrious career helping to design computers in the 1960s, and
then developing the first smoke detectors, fish finders and calculators,
O'Neal retired in 1983 but found that he had too much time on his hands.
So he and his wife, Lois, started organizing medical missions to destitute
villages in Guatemala. It was on those trips that he began to see families
coming in with terrible burns.
"I'm not talking about burns that blister, I'm talking about burns that burn
fingers off and ruin legs," O'Neal says. "A kid starting to walk in one of
those huts with an open campfire in the middle of the floor plops down on
all fours, sticks a hand in a bed of coals, and immediately the hand is
burned off. It's a horrible sight. And we had kids doing face-plants in a
bed of coals, ruining their lives."
In addition to the risk of burns, the houses are usually not ventilated -
creating endless respiratory problems and carbon monoxide buildup. What's
more, the open fire is inefficient, dispersing heat in all directions and
requiring lots of firewood to keep it stoked.
So O'Neal invented a stove that solves all these problems. It's made of
local materials: fired clay for the combustion chamber, poured concrete
blocks for the structure, and a tin chimney to get the smoke out of the
house. Then the inventor gave the design away and never earned a nickel.
Stove Features Multiple Benefits
About 1,400 miles south of O'Neal's home is the Mayan village of Alotenango,
in the central Guatemalan highlands. Inside tin-roof kitchens, women are
busy tortillando, or making tortillas.
Maria Rosario Chavac has had an Onil stove for about two months.
"Before, I had to leave every day to cut wood," Chavac recalls. "Now, it's
saving me a lot of wood. Now, I only have to go out every four days to cut
wood. The old fire used up wood faster. This stove is working well."
This is what women tend to notice more than the health and safety
improvements. The stove requires 70 percent less wood, which saves labor and
Fernando Gamez works with Pro-Rural, a Guatemalan government anti-poverty
agency that is a big supporter of the Onil stove. He says that because the
stoves use far less wood than traditional fires, women are spending less
time gathering wood, freeing them up to participate in a Pro-Rural program
that teaches them how to sew and to do other handcrafts.
Demand Growing Across Latin America
The popularity of the Onil stove is spreading.
An Iowa State University study comparing 22 of the world's cook stoves
ranked the Onil No. 1.
According to Pro-Rural, 50,000 of them have been installed in Guatemalan
homes, with plans for another 50,000. Helps International, a Texas-based
charity that promotes the stove, moved into Mexico in the past year, setting
up a stove factory in Toluca. Former President Vicente Fox is said to be an
The environmental ministry in El Salvador - where deforestation is severe -
has begun distributing the stove. And there's interest in Honduras.
Competition With Cell Phones, Coca-Cola
The challenge, of course, is how to get more of them to families who need
Richard Grinnell, Helps International's point man in Latin America, says
that in truth, they need 1.5 million Onil stoves in Guatemala and 6 million
in Mexico. He says the obstacle is not unwillingness to change traditional
"Once they've seen how they work, I haven't gone to a community yet that
hasn't said they want them," he says.
The challenge is one of priorities, Grinnell says. The Onil stove costs
about $100. Though some nonprofits give the stove away, Helps International
prefers selling it through a community microcredit corporation, so the
family will value it more.
For a Guatemalan family that may earn $5 a day, $100 is a lot of money, and
Grinnell says the biggest obstacles are cell phones and Coca-Cola - "because
that's what they spend their money on."
He says what they need is more credit, and a bigger awareness campaign.
Meanwhile, O'Neal is keeping himself busy. After the booming success of his
stove, he can't stay out of his workshop. Now he has invented a water
filtration system, a bean cooker and an improved stove, all to ease rural
poverty - all this from someone who designed computers that went into the
first NASA rockets.
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