Peru: The heat of life

by Javier Aguayo

The inhabitants of the district of Langui, in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, know what it is like to be really cold. At almost 4,000 metres above sea level, the mercury seldom rises above 0=B0C from May to September and can fall as low as -30=B0C. Bronchopulmonary infections are rampant, aggravated by the lack of heating and hot water in homes.

"Providing homes with a sustainable and healthy heating system results in a considerable improvement in the extremely difficult living conditions of people in this area," remarks Alberto Monguzzi, the regional shelter advisor of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Under this premise, the IFRC, in cooperation with the Catholic University of Peru and Peruvian Red Cross volunteers, began to install improved heating systems using solar power and stoves in 30 rural houses in the districts of Langui, Yanaoca and Kunturkanki, all in the region of Cuzco, one of the most disadvantaged areas in this Andean country.

Anticipating emergencies

"The idea arose in the simplest way," explains Alberto Monguzzi, one of the main promoters of the project. "In 2007, when the IFRC was responding to an emergency caused by the extreme cold in the area, we began to reflect on how we could provide a permanent, long-term solution."

The aim was to prevent a regular and predictable event - the extreme cold - from causing repeated humanitarian emergencies. And that is how the first heaters came to be installed. It is a simple system based on what is known as a 'Trombe wall', which is an enclosure annexed to the house, with a wall full of vents and facing the sun. This allows the sun-heated air to flow into the house and the cold air to flow out into the enclosure exposed to the sun, providing permanent heating in the house.

The improved stove, fuelled by wood or cow dung, significantly reduces emissions and maximizes the heat generated for cooking and heating the house, so that it serves both purposes. This type of stove also reduces the risks of eye infections caused by the direct burning of firewood.

With a budget of just over 53,000 Swiss francs (51,805 US dollars/35,014 euro) from the IFRC's shelter fund, the work of 20 people and five months to implement the project, the first 30 systems were installed and the beneficiaries were trained to construct the systems themselves.

Sustainable project

One of the project's key assets is its sustainability. The beneficiary families attended training workshops and undertook to continue installing the systems in other houses in the region. The project is also based on the use of low-cost, non-contaminating materials that are easy to find in the region.

The interest of the Peruvian national and local authorities in the project is clear proof of its success.

"The provincial authorities, as indirect beneficiaries, presented the results to central government, which is now considering adopting the policy itself to address the problem of the extreme cold that affects the region each year," concludes Monguzzi.

The IFRC also hopes that the introduction of these systems will have a positive effect on the local economy, resulting in the development of a small industry.