Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Flames of Hope

Since I'm sort of an unrequited gearhead, I found this very interesting. A good example of applying high-tech thinking to come up with low-tech solutions.


A Berkeley physicist has found a way to help keep Darfurians alive, by building a better kitchen stove.

[...] Gathering firewood can now mean a seven-hour round trip, during which women risk rape and mutilation at the hands of the Janjaweed militias that lurk in wait. (Men can't make the trip in their stead - they'll simply be killed.) A fact-finding visit to the region in late 2005 brought home the problem's urgency to Gadgil. "A huge majority of people were missing at least one meal a week because they did not have fuel to cook with," he says. In a sick Catch-22, many families were selling some of their food in exchange for the wood to cook it with.

Think about that the next time you turn a knob or push a button to cook dinner: what if you had to risk rape, mutilation, and/or death just to give your family a meal? We wouldn't be a nation of obese people, that's for sure.

[...] After returning from Darfur, Gadgil worked with lab colleagues and students at UC Berkeley to modify an existing Indian stove for Darfurians' needs. "Cook stoves, although they look simple, are very complex creatures," he says, "which is why you can't simply sit in Berkeley and say, 'Well, this is the stove for you'." While the Indian stove excelled at producing low-intensity heat for cooking rice, for instance, Darfurians needed a high-powered flame for sautéing onions, garlic and okra, ingredients in their staple dish, mulah. And since most families cook outside, the stove also needed to cope with the region's strong winds.

The result of their efforts is the Berkeley-Darfur stove (, a hollow drum that looks like a cross between a lunar landing craft and a stop sign. Designed with a smooth airflow to fuel the fire and an upper rim that fits snugly with different-size pots, the stove requires 75 percent less wood than an open fire, and a wind collar makes for a steady flame. That means fewer risky trips outside the camp. And those who now pay for firewood, Gadgil estimates, could save as much as $200 a year, which could be used instead for luxuries like new clothing and fresh meat.

Luxuries, huh?

Presented with a gleaming prototype that had been made in Berkeley, local craftsmen declared firmly, "There's no way you can build this in Sudan." Tachibana needed to tweak the production method - substituting hand shears for high-pressure water jets, for example - to arrive at a workable, low-tech solution.

I'm glad there are smart people working on projects like this. The Darfurian refugees are up against it from every angle, and every little bit helps.

Being of somewhat simpler mind, I think a good start on those folks' problems would simply be to send 2dMarDiv over there to kill Janjaweed. Oh, they're being wasted uselessly elsewhere, aren't they?

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