By Alzubair Saiyed:
It is not news that the world is burning and the devastation of human life is in full view. The reckless consumption of fossil fuels and inefficient energy use in the last few decades are the major reasons for this grave climate crisis that future generations will have to face. The time to discuss and plan are long gone. We need to act, and act fast! My initiative, the “Smokeless Cook Stoves” is one small attempt to reduce the health risks faced by tribal women in Gujarat and the CO2 emission caused due to the dependence on traditional fuels.
Being a mechanical engineer with a master’s degree in thermal engineering, I understand the long term impact of our small, everyday actions like burning unsegregated waste or using firewood for cooking on our environment. We need to transform the way we have lived to reduce our carbon footprint. It is high time we reduce relying on fossil fuels and shift to more renewable sources of energy.
On one of my assignments to the villages of Gujarat, I noticed that houses still relied on conventional and obsolete stoves that run on firewood and cow dung to cook daily meals. Women and children used to travel long distances to obtain wood. With the huge success of Pradhan Mantri Ujwalla Yojana around the nation, I found this oddity appalling. A report by WHO equated the exposure to pollution from burning firewood to smoking 400 cigarettes in an hour. On further investigation, I discovered that every year, 160 lakh hectares of forests are destroyed to obtain wood. It is threatening that more than half of the worlds’ population still relies on these traditional fuels for cooking. This is not only a major environmental issue but also a root cause for various severe health issues for those continuously exposed to its fumes.
As an assistant professor in an engineering institute, I took it upon myself to find a solution to this unhealthy and ungreen practice. After a lot of research, the most straightforward yet most efficient solution to the problem turned out to be a solar cooker! But in these villages where families earned around Rs. 5000 to 6000 each month, affording a commercial solar cooker of Rs. 2000 and above was not even a possibility.
Someone has rightly said, “There are infinite possibilities if only you wish to see.” Putting my technical skills to work, I found a way to make solar cookers more economical by substituting the materials. These women couldn’t afford a solar cooker, but they could surely make one for themselves with less than Rs. 60!
Realising the potential for a huge positive impact, I decided to begin the ‘Solar Cooker Campaign’ in 2016 which involved training rural and tribal women, men, youth and students to make and use their own solar cookers. With free workshops and training sessions in several schools, NGOs, villages, and colleges, I’ve trained more than 1500 women till today. With some of my students who volunteered to join this initiative, I’ve travelled to more than 100 villages in Gujarat and reached out to villages in Maharashtra and Karnataka, including Panchmahal, Narmada, Jamnagar, and Jetpur with our solar model, and the journey still continues.
I have dedicated my life to building a more sustainable, stable and equitable world. But there’s a lot more to gain personally in this journey of impacting lives. In the year 2018, I was awarded V-Awards India, for being a volunteer for change in society. Along with respect and appreciation, it also gave me an amazing networking opportunity. The recognition gave a new phase to the campaign, opening doors for many new collaborations. Currently, as the Senior Manager at the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network, I am trying to develop a better and improved version of the solar cooker which can overcome the shortcomings of the previous model.
Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development once said, “Sustainable Development will be impossible without the full input by the engineering profession”. For this to occur, engineers like me must adopt a completely different attitude towards natural and cultural systems and reconsider interactions between engineering disciplines and non-technical fields.
Let us all do the little things we can with the little we have for a better and a brighter tomorrow. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – The world is one family. It’s time to act together.