Today is World Environment Day which was first established by the UN in 1974 and has been driving five decades of climate action. This year’s focus is on ecosystem restoration: preventing, halting and reversing the damage to our ecosystems- from forests and wetlands to rivers and reefs, healing the natural world rather than exploiting it. People and the planet are only as healthy as the ecosystems we depend upon. Ecosystem restoration can help protect and improve livelihoods, regulate disease, reduce risk of natural disasters and without restoration we cannot achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
So how does a stove help in preserving and maintaining ecosystems and the natural world? Our stoves play a key part in halting the degradation and destruction of forestry and keeping trees in the ground. The UN records that we are losing 10 billion hectares of forestry each year-an area bigger than Costa Rica. Every three seconds the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch. Our project in Rwanda will save forestry equal to 8,000 football pitches every year. Here’s how: Rwanda uses over 6 million tons of firewood per year for household cooking and cooking accounts for 90% of Rwanda’s biomass energy consumption. The DelAgua stove requires at least 50% less wood than traditional open fires and burns efficiently using just small twigs and tinder. Each stove, over its 5- year life, saves the equivalent of over 10 tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere and by keeping more trees in the ground, greater levels of CO2 can also be captured from the atmosphere. From September 2021 our next generation stove will launch with a 10-year useful life, saving the equivalent of over 35 tons of CO2 emissions.
Because the majority of the population in Rwanda have relied on wood for cooking on traditional fires, Rwanda has suffered from serious forestry depletion. There is extensive action being taken to replant and restore forestry however if this is done without the provision of more efficient stoves then the cycle of degradation and destruction will continue. We have now distributed over 600,000 stoves in rural Rwanda and this is breaking the cycle and allowing local ecosystems to revive. One example is the Rugezi Marsh, 20km2 of wetlands in Northern Rwanda and one of the country’s most important reservoirs.
This pristine ecosphere, home to many species of birds including the rare Grey Crowned Crane, was being sucked dry by extensive agricultural exploitation. The marsh lies in a valley surrounded by hills which used to be covered in trees but which were cut for firewood and fodder. Rwanda has frequent periods of heavy rainfall and this combined with deforestation is a destructive combination. With the slopes denuded of trees, the rain washed the soil from the slopes into the marsh. This silt damaged the marsh and the lakes it feeds, causing water levels to drop which in turn impacted the local climate and wildlife.
A shortage of water also affected local agriculture and the provision of water for hydroelectric power which is essential to the region’s development and prosperity. Further damage to the ecosystem was caused because the local communities had to cut the grass and reeds on the marsh because there was no forestry left to provide animal fodder and this increased water evaporation. The communities were aware that damaging the environment was destroying their livelihood but there were no easy solutions. In 2016 a programme of reforestation was begun, planting Eucalyptus and other varieties of trees, which stabilised the soil and provided a sustainable source of firewood.
DelAgua also started distributing stoves to the district and these stoves, which reduce by more than 50% the amount of firewood needed, have played an integral part in the success of the reforestation programme and the restoration of the Rugezi Marsh. Today the wetland is well protected, trees are intact, birds are returning and the water levels rising.
We are proud to be support Environment Day’s theme of Generation Restoration. As the Rugezi Marsh story shows, it is only with healthy ecosystems that can we enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change and stop the collapse of biodiversity. You can help us keep trees in the ground and join Generation Restoration by supporting our stoves project and offsetting your carbon footprint here.