"THIES, 19 November 2008 (IRIN) - Researchers have sold over 1,000 solar stoves to rural families in Senegal in a bid to prove that the ovens can improve child and maternal health and reduce household fuel consumption.

Many institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO) have backed these claims but to date no scientific evidence has been gathered.

The University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Evaluation of Global Action (CEGA) is undertaking the first study of solar stoves, evaluating the impact of the stoves on the lives of the families who bought them six months ago. The families live in the Thiès region, 70km east of the capital Dakar.

Eva Rehfuess, a scientist with WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment, says half the world’s population uses solid fuel – usually wood, charcoal or dung – for household energy, which produces harmful smoke and causes 1.5 million deaths a year, most of those of children.

Solar stoves, which reflect energy from the sun's rays to heat food, do not emit harmful smoke and so are a safe way to cook, says Marie-Ange Binagwaho, director of Solar Household Energy, a US-based non-profit organisation promoting solar energy solutions.

For WHO’s Rehfuess there is no time to waste. "We've known about the link between indoor air pollution and respiratory disease for more than 20 years but it is taking a long time for everyone to become aware of the scale of the problem."

Preliminary results of the Thiès solar oven research are due in January 2009."

Read the IRIN report here in full