(By Markian Hawryluk) The mountains of Nepal hold a special place in the heart of George Basch. Since serving as base camp support for an Everest expedition in 2001, the engineerand businessman from Taos, New Mexico has returned numerous times for trekking and climbing trips.
In 2009, however, he saw the poor people living the region cooking on traditional, rudimentary cookstoves or over open fire pits inside their homes, consuming excessive amounts of precious fuel and polluting the indoor air to dangerously unhealthy levels.
“I had been in their homes and I had been suffering from the yak (dung) fires they were exposed to,” he said. “It was just horrible.” That same year on a trekking trip in Bhutan, he heard about a unique stove that burned natural materials much more efficiently, reducing both fuel usage and smoke. “It was one of those light bulb moment,” he told ExplorersWeb.
Basch tracked down the stove, Envirofit g-3300 cook stove cook stove with a two-pot accessory, made by Ft. Collins, Colo.-based Envirofit. The company had sold more than 250,000 of the stoves, which were functional, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. He launched the Himalayan Stove Project, the sole initiative of the Paul Basch Memorial Foundation, a fund named after his son, an avid hiker and climber who committed suicide. The project aims to distribute 10,000 stoves to Nepalese families. Basch purchased an initial four dozen of the stoves and sent them over to Nepal through contacts he had made while on climbing trips. The stoves were a success and the local organizations distributing the stoves estimated a need for an additional 4,000 stoves.
The stoves are manufactured in China and shipped to Nepal, and distributed from a warehouse in Kathmandu to groups in the mountainous regions of the country. The project manufactures a chimney for the stoves onsite in Nepal. The first container load of 1,400 stoves was delivered in 2012, and have all been distributed. The first stoves were placed in homes in remote villages of the Khumbu region of Nepal, through Community Action Nepal (CAN). CAN uses local health care nurses to introduce the stoves through their health education programs to Mother’s Groups and Youth Groups. The local organizations believe requiring families to contribute something toward the stoves was a better strategy than giving them away as gifts. The groups each have their own requirements, from making small payments, to creating micro-loan programs or requiring the families to visit a health care clinic or day care center to participate in community activities.
Manufacturing costs for the stoves are relatively low, but with the cost of shipping and distribution, Basch estimates the cost of getting a stove to a family in Nepal at $100 to $125. Basch and others working on the project are all volunteering their time, and funding relies on charitable donations.
“For $100, change a family’s life,” he said.
The World Health Organization has listed indoor smoke pollution as the fourth greatest health care threat, after malaria, clean water and HIV-AIDS. According to the United Nations, smoke from stoves and other indoor air pollution kills 1.9 million people who contract lung and heart disease or experience complications from low birth weight. Women and children comprise 85 percent of these deaths. Because the stoves use natural fuels, they don’t require families to learn new ways of cooking or a massive change in infrastructure. Basch said they reduce fuel needs by 80 percent, limiting the impact on the environment, and allowing families to repurpose yak dung to use a fertilizer in the fields. Smoke emissions are also reduced by a similar amount.
“One of our supporters said, ’It’s a simple, low tech solution to a really really great and dramatic problem,’” Basch said. “I think that’s a really good description.”
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