UNHCR partner wins green award for pioneering ethanol stove

News Stories, 23 June 2008

© Courtesy of the Ashden Awards
Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai (centre) presents the award to Gaia's Milkyas Debebe, while host Anna Ford looks on.

LONDON, United Kingdom, June 23 (UNHCR) A UNHCR implementing partner, the Gaia Association, has won a prestigious Ashden Award worth US$40,000 for distributing an innovative and environmentally friendly ethanol stove to thousands of refugees in Ethiopia.

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate and environmental activist, Wangari Maathai, presented the green award to Gaia Association Ethiopia's managing director, Milkyas Debebe, during a ceremony in London last Thursday. This year's top prize of US$80,000 went to India's Technology Informatics Design Endeavour, while Gaia was one of six others to be honoured in the international category.

The Swedish-designed CleanCook stove distributed by the Gaia Association on behalf of UNHCR has helped to slow deforestation, curb sexual and gender-based violence, reduce indoor air pollution and ease friction between refugees and locals in Kebribeyah Refugee Camp and other areas of eastern Ethiopia, which has seen an influx of refugees from Somalia since 1991.

"Our judges were enormously impressed with the enthusiasm for the stoves among refugee women. Not only did the stoves prevent wood-collection, with its associated dangers and environmental impacts, they were also much safer, quicker and more pleasant to use, in particular avoiding the risk of respiratory and eye diseases from smoke inhalation," said Sarah Butler-Sloss, founder and chair of the annual Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy.

"The Ethiopian people, especially women and children and our growing refugee population, suffer increasingly from poor energy choices and energy poverty. Gaia is pioneering ethanol stoves and fuel, using Ethiopia's natural resources. With support from the UNHCR and the Ethiopian government we are helping both Ethiopians and refugees. This award will help us to reach more people in need," said Gaia's Debebe.

The CleanCook stoves run on ethanol produced from molasses, a by-product of the local sugar industry. UNHCR and Gaia distribute ethanol fuel each day to some 17,000 users of the stoves in Kebribeyah.

The stoves are healthier and more efficient than traditional wood-burning clay ovens or open fires, while their use means families can avoid using wood altogether. This is important in an area that has suffered severe deforestation and where women were in danger of attack when they collected fuel wood.

Local manufacture of the stoves is expected to get under way soon, while UNHCR and Gaia plan to expand the project to other refugee camps in Ethiopia.

"We estimate that 90 to 95 percent of the pressure on the environment has been lifted in this arid and semi-arid region [because of the stoves]," UNHCR Environment Officer Amare Gebre Egziabher, who attended Thursday's ceremony, recently noted. This meant less friction over scarce resources between refugees and host communities, he added.

Britain's Prince Charles, patron of the Ashden Awards, commended the finalists during a meeting earlier on Thursday at his London residence, Clarence House.