Uganda: SAFE stoves to help women in Karamoja

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In the highly insecure and chronically poor Karamoja region, women and children face a constant risk of violence when they collect the firewood they need to cook food. Fuel-efficient stoves, built from mud, can help while also lessening pressure on the environment.

KARAMOJA - If you ask Maria (Lomokol) and Anyese (Nawal), two women who live in Nadiket Aworobu village in Karamoja, there is no doubt that fuel efficient stoves, made from local mud, bring advantages.

"A mud stove not only uses less firewood, but also retains a lot of heat, which makes cooking easier and faster," they say.

In Karamoja, however, not all women are benefiting from this sort of stove. Most still venture into the bush on a daily basis to meet their cooking needs, running the risk of being beaten, raped and at times even killed by cattle raiders.

"When they find you on their path, they either rape you or kill you".

Sexual and other forms of violence have become so common in the region, that women consider it a blessing if nothing happens for two consecutive weeks: "If nothing happens for two weeks, then we expect something the following time".

There are about 1.2 million people in Karamoja surviving on WFP food. In order to cook this food, the women need fuel. But this is in short supply. So they sometimes venture into dangerous environments to collect firewood or produce charcoal. or, undercooking food to save on fuel, or selling part of their food ration to buy fuel.

In addition to exposing women and children to violence, fuel collection is having a devastating impact on an already precarious environment, contributing to soil erosion, desertification and loss of grazing and cultivating environments.

Fuel-efficient stoves, by reducing the amount of wood needed for cooking, can help lessen the risk of rape and other forms of violence while at the same time protecting the environment.

Through the SAFE (Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy) initiative WFP will make sure that all women in Karamoja will have access to a fuel-efficient stove. At the same time, the provision of alternative livelihood resources will decrease families' dependency on wood fuel (firewood and charcoal) for income, and reduce the risk of negative coping mechanisms to cook WFP's food.

WFP's SAFE will target a total of 131,400 households and 219 schools in both North Darfur and Uganda, with potentials for expansion to other countries in 2010.