Despite the breathtaking and scenic views, living in the valleys comes with its challenges. Be it extreme weather or deprivation of basic amenities — like electricity, gas, and water — the communities of the mountainous regions of Karakoram Range face extreme difficulties on a daily basis.
Kashmal village is one of the many villages located in the Karakoram. The people residing there depend on wood for cooking and heating purposes. Generally, the wood comes from high-value trees that have taken decades to mature. A traditional house in Gilgit Baltistan is built from stone, timber, and mud that provides insulation in harsh winters. The whole house’s structure is built around a central fireplace, on square dimensions, with no internal, dividing walls. The central fireplace is also used as a stove for cooking purposes. The house lacks windows, and the only source of ventilation is from the chimney above the fireplace.
The smoke released from inhouse burning of wood, on traditional stoves, contributes heavily to indoor pollution despite the chimney. Soot can be seen on the indoor walls from years of burning of wood. Along with the elderly and children, women are most vulnerable to the wood smoke pollutants, as they spend a significant amount of their time preparing food for their families.
UNDP in Pakistan is working on improving the Central Karakorum National Park Management System, in northern Pakistan, as a model for mountain ecosystems. Supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the initiative aims to improve governance of mountain national parks in Gilgit-Baltistan, and to improve living conditions by providing better livelihood options for people in the buffer zones of Central Karakoram National Park and Deosai National Park.
As part of this initiative, 200 locally designed and produced fuel-efficient stoves were provided to 50 households in 15 valleys of Gilgit Baltistan, through World Wide Fund for Nature-Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan), to thwart the harmful effects of indoor burning of wood.
A mother of four children, 35-years old Bani has experienced several health issues from the smoke due to indoor burning. With the installation of the stove in her home in Kashmal, she narrates experiencing a major health shift.
“I had to burn wood three times a day for cooking, heating water, and making bread. The direct heat used to burn my hands”, says Bani. “It was also very difficult to breathe due to the smoke. Now, I make bread, cook for my family and heat water at the same time from the single stove and that too in a smokeless and clean environment”.
The stoves compromise of three different portions and can perform three different tasks simultaneously; cooking at high heat, cooking at low heat, and a water heating and storing chamber. The stoves are easy to handle; the ash from burning is contained in an underlying chamber that can be cleaned easily, while the smoke exits the house through a chimney.
Meanwhile, the amount of wood burnt has also been reduced to half due to this intervention. In conventional stoves, 160 kilograms of wood were burnt weekly for household purposes while in fuel-efficient stoves it is has been reduced to 80 kilograms per week. Moreover, the burning of wood logs has been replaced by branches and wood chips.
“Previously, in Bukhari (traditional heaters), we used to burn all kinds of plastics and waste generated in household for heating purposes. We were suffering from respiratory diseases, eyes and skin infections”, said Bani. “We are happy with this stove, as now we can breathe in clean air inside our homes throughout the year.”