Choosing an appropriate cookstove in humanitarian settings can be complex for organizations providing aid. Too often products prove difficult to use or require a significant change in cooking habits, which can result in the product being sold by the prospective user to meet other needs. To complicate matters further, large humanitarian agencies regularly face long procurement processes for cookstoves, delaying the delivery of life-improving stoves to crisis-affected people. This problem is particularly acute during natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis, when cooking facilities may be destroyed and will not be replaced for months or years.
To respond to these challenges, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), partnered with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Berkeley Air Monitoring Group to develop a common set of performance and test standards to that could be used to evaluate cookstoves available in the market. A set of guidelines was initially developed in 2015, and UNHCR released the final specifications as part of a public tender late last year. In line with the ISO International Workshop Agreement, the tender includes minimum criteria for stove fuel efficiency, indoor emissions, safety, weight, and other factors. It also requires that manufacturers provide at least a one-year warrantee on the stove, which is crucial in humanitarian settings where repair services are rare.
The new specifications will allow UNHCR country offices to more easily procure a wide range of stoves that fit the needs of specific refugee populations, while ensuring that the products meet a minimum level of quality. “We are hoping the tender will give a much clearer idea of cost vs. efficiency or emissions, as well as enable a more informed decision process on choosing the most appropriate fuel and stove combination, even at local level,” says Paul Quigley, Senior Energy Coordinator at UNHCR. Along with other humanitarian agencies, UNHCR is exploring methods such as cash assistance and vouchers to give displaced people the same degree of choice as private consumers.
UNHCR’s formal procurement standards for cookstoves present an opportunity for other humanitarian agencies to follow suit. In 2016, the Alliance assisted the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to update its entry for efficient solid fuel stoves in the Emergency Items Catalogue, which provides recommendations for products to be used in humanitarian situations. The Alliance will continue to work with organizations such as the World Food Programme and Médecins Sans Frontières in 2017 to develop similar internal guidelines, with the goal of harmonizing requirements across agencies.