The United Nations on Wednesday launched a pilot project to provide fuel-efficient stoves to some 150,000 women in Sudan and Uganda to cut the risks of murder, rape and other violence they face in gathering firewood, while at the same time protecting the environment.

The Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings (SAFE) stoves initiative, organised by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other U.N. agencies, will be rolled out next year to reach eventually up to 6 million refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and returnees in 36 nations, where they are forced to walk further and further into the bush into unsafe areas to collect firewood, U.N. officials said here.

“Women and girls should not have to risk their lives and dignity, and precious trees should not be lost, in the simple act of trying to cook food for their families,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said. “The SAFE stoves launch will help protect them and the environment with practical and urgently needed solutions.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the project at an event in Copenhagen held on the sidelines of the U.N. climate change talks, the officials said.

He described the initiative as showing “a virtuous circle in action, thanks to technology — environmental protection ... improved safety for women ... access to clean energy for the poor . .. enhanced climate security.” The project “is a simple, inexpensive and win-win solution ... [that will] provide immediate, tangible benefits to their users,” he said.

WFP researchers have found that some women spend a full day’s wages on firewood alone. Others sell off food rations to purchase fuel. The SAFE project will scale up distribution of fuel-efficient and “improved mud” stoves to assist almost 100,000 women in North Darfur, Sudan. These stoves consume less firewood and lower health risks associated with smoke.

In Uganda, WFP will focus on refugees and pastoralists in the drought-hit Karamoja region. It will provide more than 35,000 households and 50 schools with fuel-efficient stoves.

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