Solar Kitchens for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Solar kitchens are being built throughout North Korea as result of an agreement between the authorities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the the Adventist Development and Relief Agency

Pyongyang, DPRK | Joerg Fehr/Ray Dabrowski

Solar units behind the Pyonyang factory

Solar units behind the Pyonyang factory

Albert inspects a solar unit

Albert inspects a solar unit

Solar kitchens are being built throughout North Korea as result of an agreement between the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

Two years ago ADRA Switzerland received a request from North Korea and responded to help with the acute needs throughout the country, including delivery of foodstuffs, grain, medical supplies, and providing solar kitchens. In the agreement ADRA accepted a first phase goal of building 1,000 Solar Kitchen Units with cooking capacity for about 120 people. The project allows the Agency to station technicians and other personnel in the DPRK as needed. The document also paved the way for ADRA’s involvement in sending food aid and seeds to North Korea.

“After an appeal to several food companies, we received various donations of food items and vegetable seeds. In the meantime, we endeavored to find the right solar heater technology. We found one at Solare Bruecke in Germany that uses parabolic mirrors with a very simple mechanism that will automatically trace the sun,” reports Joerg Fehr, Director of ADRA Switzerland. “After this we were ready to plan a project. The next step to take was in the area of human resources.”

According to Fehr, the embassy of the DPRK in Berne welcomed a proposal of stationing a project manger in their country. An agreement was signed in May of 1999 between ADRA Switzerland and the Flood Disaster Rehabilitation Committee represented by the DPRK Embassy in Berne.

“Human resources are probably the biggest asset the society has,” says Ulrich Frikart, who oversees ADRA activities in the Euro-Africa region with headquarters in Berne, Switzerland. ADRA management did not have to look far, he says.

“There are many professionals who are members of Seventh-day Adventist congregations. All too often we do not recognize that their expertise comes as an important part of our humanitarian response,” he said. “In our humanitarian efforts we are open and ready to help those who are in need irrespective of their background or world-view.” Frikart cited the involvement of Albert Mettler, a civil engineer from Switzerland, in the humanitarian response to the acute needs in North Korea.

“He and his wife, Vasilica, are an excellent example of commitment to service and professional expertise that responds to a particular need. They report regularly from North Korea and speak of progress in dealing with aid distribution and the solar kitchen project,” Frikart reported.

The project began in June of 1999. ADRA personnel started with a shipment of two 20-foot containers with food items, seeds, some hospital appliances and two mobile solar kitchens. The shipment was made possible through a grant from the Swiss government to meet the transport costs of SFr14,500 [US$8,550].

For Albert and Vasilica Mettler, the first steps were to show Koreans that cooking with solar energy is possible. “To begin with, we did build two mobile units in Germany. Two small lightweight trailers were donated by the German company Koch. The two parabolic mirrors mounted on these trailers became Albert’s training project at Solare Bruecke in Haushamm Bavaria,” he explained.

“The technique of the mirrors is kept very simple. The reflectors can be built with any kind of steel rods and iron profiles. A pendulum clock made out of bicycle parts will adjust the parabolic mirrors towards the sun. The alternative energy like wood or coal has to be used when there is no sunshine, but we believe that the use of solar energy will contribute to keep people from cutting down more and more trees.”

Mettler coordinated a pilot phase of the project, building 105 units with the assistance of ten Korean technicians and 100 workers. This helped in establishing the cost of each unit, which enabled ADRA to deal with the large project of 1,000 solar kitchen units.