Few people in the world are familiar with the natural beauty of South Sudan. With its expansive grasslands, swamps and tropical rainforests straddling both banks of the White Nile River, this African nation has an abundance of natural resources. Yet, years of conflict and marginalization have left the world’s newest country as one of the most underdeveloped. On top of that, extreme weather, higher temperatures and a decrease in rainfall caused by climate change are threatening the lives and livelihoods for many vulnerable communities.
Women in Jur River County are trying out their new energy-efficient cookstoves. Image: Cordaid
Like in Jur River County, near Wau, in the northwest of the country. Communities there predominantly live from small-scale agriculture and livestock-raising. Recurrent hazards like floods and drought exacerbate the existing poverty levels. Approximately 51% of the population is living below the poverty line and living on an equivalent of less than 1 US Dollar per day.
Healthy nature is key to a peaceful existence
Sometimes, these challenges explode into violent conflicts between groups of pastoralists, when they need to cross traditional borders to look for water and grazing land. A healthy natural environment is key to their peaceful existence.
Both the population that has been displaced because of the war and the earlier inhabitants of the area rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. These traditional methods are generally quite energy-inefficient and cause a serious threat to the environment: an alarmingly large number of trees are being cut down.
For women, this way of cooking poses another threat: too often they become victims of physical and sexual assaults when they go into the forests to collect firewood.
Some studies (like the South Sudan State of Environment 2008, UNE) estimate that the deforestation rate in South Sudan is about 1-2% per year. The communities and the government do not have the means to adapt to climate change quickly and manage their resources well enough to face this enormous challenge.
The benefits of a clean cookstove
Sustainable resource management is crucial for South Sudanese communities like the one in Jur River County. Fuel-efficient stoves are an important way to reduce environmental degradation caused by cutting trees, shrubs and roots for fuel.
It can also ease tensions between pastoralists over the use of and access to natural resources, and reduce the time and burden of collecting firewood, therefore limiting women’s exposure to violent threats. And let’s not forget the major health benefits of reducing indoor smoke and the risk of uncontrolled fires and burns to cooks and children.
“It is dangerous to pick firewood near the camp. With the new stove, I use less firewood. I have more income to help my family and I am proud that I can introduce these stoves to others in Wau.”
Rebecca, a resident of a settlement for internally displaced persons
Cordaid through the Partners for Resilience, an alliance of five Dutch aid organizations, has helped the people of Jur River County and Wau to adapt to climate change by promoting the use of fuel-efficient stoves to reduce the demand for firewood and charcoal.
Taking it forward, making it bigger
South Sudanese organization HARD (Hope Agency for Relief and Development) with the support from Cordaid, trained the community to produce the fuel-efficient stoves and briquettes.
The briquettes are made from farm waste produce like groundnut husks, maize stalks and sorghum stalks. The stoves are made from a mixture of river clay, ash and sawdust. The design, with only one opening, makes it easy to control the heat and reduce heat loss. These new and innovative cookstoves will reduce the use of firewood by up to 66% per day.
“The Partners for Resilience alliance has been very helpful in supporting me with various levels of technical expertise.”
Bernice Kitum, HARD Project Coordinator
In Jur River County to groups have been trained to build stoves for mass production. The training was done by Titi Foundation, a local community-based organization specialized in energy-efficient stoves.
They trained 80 people, 30 men and 50 women, and organized gatherings at markets to promote the benefits of the energy-saving stoves. To introduce this new product, the sellers are subsidized for 50% of the price so they can sell the stoves for SSP 1600 (approx. 10 US Dollars), which is similar to the inefficient metal stoves.
Until now, 4,300 stoves have been produced and sold. The production groups see a growing demand and have set up a stall in the market of Wau.
Linking to the bigger picture of resilience
So far, the Partners for Resilience provided training on Integrated Risk Management (IRM) to government ministries, local authorities and NGOs to raise awareness among policymakers and the local community.
The IRM approach shows how to build community resilience and what role healthy nature plays in the battle against climate change-related hazards and reduce nature-based conflicts. The cookstoves are a simple, practical example of that approach.
The local authorities have realized what energy-saving really means in terms of climate change adaptation. While more people are adopting this new measure and reducing the need to collect firewood in the forests, it is expected to boost the will of local authorities to protect the forest. That means less stress on nature so the environment gets a fair chance to revive, after which it will also provide its benefits to the people.
Solutions are simple when there is peace
The relative calm in the country since a fragile peace agreement was signed between warring parties, is an important factor in the success of the programme. Peace allowed the training to take place and created a safe situation for women to get involved.
The stoves resonate with their needs: fuel for cooking is expensive and collecting it can be a time consuming and dangerous activity. The new stoves provide women with numerous benefits, including income diversification. Hence communities were quick to get on board.