Solar ovens, renewable energy offer hope for Afghanistan

Mon Jul 18, 2011 10:02pm EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - At first, she noticed Afghan children hauling brush. Then, in Afghan family compounds, she noticed women tending small fires and trying to cook over them.

But it wasn't until U.S. diplomat Patricia McArdle realized how often it was sunny in Afghanistan that she put it together with a youthful memory of cooking with solar ovens and realized this was a low-tech option offering long-term hope to the war-torn nation, which is preparing for a draw-down of U.S. troops.

"My concern is that it (renewable energy) really hasn't been part of our talk of reconstruction," said the now-retired McArdle, who spent a year in northern Afghanistan from 2005 at the end of a diplomatic career, in a telephone conversation.

"My hope is that we will focus a bit more on renewable energy as we start to pull out."

The solar ovens -- basically a box covered in aluminum foil that can cook food by concentrating the sun's heat, which McArdle now promotes as inexpensive, renewable energy -- fits neatly into what she sees as a long tradition of sustainable living in Afghanistan.

One example is "cob," an age-old Afghan style of building that uses mud, chopped straw, sand and dung to build thick-walled structures that are naturally warm in winter and cool in summer. Yet U.S. aid money can't be used to fund buildings like this due to requirements that all construction must follow international building codes.

"They're remarkable farmers, remarkable builders. I've seen satellite dishes built by Afghan craftsmen out of old salad oil cans," she said.

"These people are creative, they're resourceful."   Continued...