The majestic Himalayas are the highest mountain range in the world and home to the Earth’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. Sitting beneath these towering peaks are the fertile lowlands of Nepal – a region of sacred valleys, grasslands, and forests known as the Terai Arc Landscape. This lush area is home to some of the world’s rarest species, including tigers, elephants and one-horned rhinos.
This region is also home to more than 8 million people, many of whom live on less than $1 to $2 a day. As electricity remains a privilege unavailable to most poor families, more than 60 percent of households here rely on massive amounts of wood for their daily cooking needs. On average, each person uses up to 2,000 pounds of wood a year. That amounts to a huge number of trees being cut down.
The loss of these forests has serious consequences for both wildlife and people. The use of forests for fuel is central to one of the world’s greatest social and health threats. Each year, 4 million people, mainly women and children, die prematurely from respiratory illnesses as a result of inhaling smoke in the home. This is more than the annual number of deaths caused by malaria, tuberculosis or AIDS.
Tigers and other dwindling species that live in Nepal’s Terai Arc are losing precious habitat, hindering their chances of survival. On a local scale, deforestation causes erosion, alters the water cycle, and exacerbates poverty. On a global scale, the loss of forests due to unsustainable fuel wood use leads to global climate change. An estimated 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions result from deforestation and degradation, including a significant portion that stems from fuel wood consumption. Moreover, it is estimated that open fires and inefficient cookstoves are responsible for about a quarter of global black carbon emissions – a leading cause of Arctic ice-melt.
But what if there was a straightforward, cost-effective solution to these problems? There is, and it comes in the form of biogas-powered cookstoves. WWF is working with communities in the Terai Arc to implement this simple – but profoundly impactful – technology.
To address these global challenges and provide benefits to people and nature, WWF is an implementing partner with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private initiative led by the UN Foundation to help 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by the year 2020. The Terai Arc in Nepal is one of WWF’s priority regions for expanding the use of biogas stoves.