Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dung Fires

We left Jaipur and arrived at Bharaptur. For miles we saw areas where cow/water buffalo dung piles were laid out to dry. They were laid on the ground, on the roofs of thatch huts, and any surface on which they could dry. We also saw dried cow pads piled up in spirals the size of small cars. Some of the piles had walls with thatched roofs for storage. The walls themselves often decorated and an opening left to access the pads. These structures are called Betara. The dung is used for home fires and, we suspect, for many kilns we saw on route for firing bricks.

It is cold right now in Bharatapur and the air noticeabely thickened and smelling of smoke. All around us, families are cooking and eating over their dung fires (those who have wood also use wood). The poor air quality is a reminder of the many (approx. 70 percent in India), who are dependent on home fires for warmth and cooking and a leading cause of pneumonia and death for children under four years of age. These fires are also linked to devastating ecosystem impacts, including deforestation, nutrient deposition which alters nutrient cycles, and increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

How to address the negative impacts of these home fires has been the work of many. Of note is the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves (http://cleancookstoves.org/) initiated by the Clinton Global Initiative and supported by UNEP. The initiative supports clean technology in homes to reduce emissions which has both human health benefits as well as natural resource benefits. Right now, when surrounded by thick smoke and thousands of small fires, it is hard to see how it could happen. However, I have worked in countries that have made the transition, for the most part, and know it can be done. I imagine the rate and efficiently will be determined by local governments as well as by local people.

To see some pictures:

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