Cooking Can Save Lives

For WFP, work goes beyond delivering food assistance. Making sure that the food we provide can be consumed as safely and nutritiously as possible is a sustainable way towards eradicating global hunger. For this purpose, at the Cookstoves Future Summit in November, New York, WFP committed to making cooking safe for 10 million people by 2020 with the 10 X 20 Campaign.

Cooking seems a safe activity, yet in humanitarian settings it poses serious health, safety and environmental risks.

Second worst health risk for women and girls

The lack of clean cooking facilities and access to cooking fuel affects the health, safety, livelihoods and environment of a third of the world’s population. This is especially the case in the world’s most vulnerable settings, where people have no choice but to cook over open fires or cookstoves that generate a lot of indoor smoke. Exposure to these poisonous emissions rank as the world’s fourth worst health risk according to the World Health Organisation, and the second worst for women and girls. 

Cookstoves Future Summit

"It doesn’t get the headlines, it is not on the nightly news, but every single hour of every single day it is poisoning our women and children, resulting in the 4 million yearly deaths” - Hillary Rodham Clinton
 Last month, at the Cookstoves Future Summit in New York, more than 400 stakeholders from governments, the private sector, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations came together to push more progress on the adoption of clean cooking solutions. 
Former US secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton pointed out the obvious need to address this problem in her opening remarks on the second day of the Summit:  “It doesn’t get the headlines, it is not on the nightly news, but every single hour of every single day it is poisoning our women and children, resulting in the 4 million yearly deaths”. 

Women and children most at risk

Sudanese Woman making a pot for cooking

Many of the panel discussions at the Future Summit circled back to the disproportionate burden that women and children bear when it comes to cooking and energy dangers. Why? In many countries women are the ones who are mostly responsible for cooking and collecting the firewood needed to prepare their families’ meals, many times with children by their side. Women are not just putting their health at risk by cooking in poorly ventilated dwellings, inhaling toxic smokes, but regularly have to travel long distances in unsafe territories in search for firewood, sometimes carrying up to 20 kilograms while risking gender-based violence or even getting killed. 

Compromising nutrition

In a vicious coping cycle, women often resort to undercooking their food to save firewood - or selling some of their food rations to buy cooking fuel. This can have a number of negative impacts on the nutrition of the family.

Towards solutions

The array of clean cooking technology and research that was presented during the Summit can provide plenty of solutions to help women and children, but even more families and communities, safely cook and eat their food without risking their lives and health. 
Providing clean cooking solutions in humanitarian settings often requires a specialized approach. Not all available models cater to the needs and requirements of these populations. Good intentions need to be coupled with addressing context-related issues in order to reach a sustainable solution.

WFP’s SAFE Initiative

African woman making a cooking pot out of clay

To make sure people can safely cook and eat the food we provide while protecting their often fragile environments, WFP has implemented the SAFE (Safe Access to Fuel and Energy) initiative. WFP’s SAFE initiative listens to people’s needs and provides essential training and education, to create fuel-efficient cookstoves people can use in their specific contexts. To this day WFP has helped 2.8 million people cook safely through SAFE initiatives.

10 X 20 Campaign

During the Summit, Assistant Executive Director Manoj Juneja announced WFP’s commitment of scaling up SAFE efforts to reach 10 million people by 2020, doubling the number of countries SAFE is being implemented in. 
Mr. Juneja said: "With SAFE we implement an innovative combination of activities addressing the numerous challenges faced by people in humanitarian, transition, and development settings, but also harnessing the livelihood and other opportunities we have to build individual and community resilience.” 

Read more about WFP's SAFE initiative