World Water Day recognizes the value of water and the role it plays in sustaining life. Not only a basic human right, water is critical to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: water and sanitation for all by 2030.
Across the globe, people are recognizing the importance of clean, safe water. Meet five young people who are leading by example – reversing pollution, advocating for more sustainable practices and improving equality of access. Each of them has been recognized as a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champion of the Earth, an award acknowledging the valuable contributions of young environmentalists, aged 18 – 30.
Max Hidalgo turns air into water.
A relentless tinkerer, Max Hidalgo has racked up award after award for his work, which uses nature as inspiration for technological innovations that change lives. His most heralded invention turns the wind into water.
Called Yawa, the technology uses a wind turbine to draw water from atmospheric humidity. Drawing up to 300 litres of water per day, the system has been used to irrigate and produce vegetation in some of the most unlikely places, like the desert. The technology is much needed in Hidalgo’s native Peru, one of the countries in Latin America most at risk of a water crisis due to changing climate.
“Don’t ever stop believing in your own ideas because you can change history,” Hidalgo says.
Mariama Mamane won’t be threatened.
“My childhood memories of the Niger River were absolutely wonderful… the place was pristine.” However, says Mariama Mamane, who lives in Burkina Faso. “It is a catastrophe when I look at the river today because it is threatened by pollution.”
Mamane is most concerned about the water hyacinth – an invasive alien species, which, when left unmanaged, grows rapidly and can suffocate aquatic life. It is a threat that she doesn’t take lightly and one that inspired her project, JACIGREEN.
JACIGREEN offers a two-fold solution: first, hyacinth is harvested and a plant-based purification system is used to improve access to clean drinking water. Secondly, the hyacinth is used to produce organic fertilizer and biogas – providing villages with clean energy for lighting and cooking.
Miao Wang uses her passion as a platform.
A passionate diver, Miao Wang grew up in northeast China, spending time at the seaside with her parents and grandparents. But as she observed the conditions under water, she found herself advising her nephew and my niece, “Don’t go swimming in the sea anymore because it is seriously polluted.”
Wang is the founder of Better Blue, a global network of divers and diving centres, practicing and advocating marine conservation. This means building a community, sharing scientific knowledge, participating in conservation efforts and motivating other people to take action. As a diver, explains Miao, “I feel obligated to tell people what is happening underwater.”
By the end of its first year, the network had expanded across 10 cities, conducted more than 180 events and reached 20 million people.
Lefteris Arapakis wants plenty more fish in the sea.
An economist by training, Lefteris Arapakis was concerned for the future of his father, brother and other fishermen who, he observed, were catching more plastic than they were fish. Overfishing and plastic pollution, have led catches in the Mediterranean Sea to plummet by 34 per cent in the last 50 years.
In 2016, Arapakis established Greece’s first fishing school, Enaleia –that teaches not only the art of fishing but also encourages fishermen to scour the Mediterranean for plastic trash. Enaleia’s fishermen have collected more than 80,000 kilos of discarded plastic from the sea and brought it to local recycling companies. Nearly half of it has been upcycled into marketable products like swimwear and socks.
“We teach students not just how to fish,” he explains, “but also how to fish so fish can exist tomorrow.”
Ankit Agarwal is creating new traditions.
With more than half a billion worshipers using flowers as part of their rituals, volumes of floral waste find their way into India’s water bodies – and the pesticides used to grow them make rivers highly toxic. For Ankit Agarwal, this is no reason to break a centuries-old tradition. Rather, it is reason to create new ones.
Founder and CEO of HelpUsGreen, Agarwal now uses discarded flowers to produce organic incense. In addition to reducing chemical flow into the Ganges river, the initiative has created employment, contributed to a circular economy and drawn attention to the importance of recycling.
Now, says Agarwal, “we are developing the world’s first biodegradable organic Styrofoam and researching how to make animal-free leather.”
Anna Luisa Beserra looks to the sun.
“My biggest problem was to convince people that the sun could disinfect water,” says Anna Luisa Bessera. Access to safe drinking water is a major problem: every two minutes, a child dies due to waterborne disease.
Bessera is the developer of Aqualuz, an UN-recognized device that uses simple technology to get right to the heart of the problem. Using the UNICEF- and WHO-recommended principle of solar water disinfection, the system uses a small tank to hold water and expose it directly to the sun. After two to six hours, a circle inside the tank changes colour, indicating that water is ready – and safe to drink.
Today, units have been installed in 5 states and more than 50 cities across Brazil, eliminating 100 per cent of bacteria.
Other advocates are also supporting the efforts to improve the quality and accessibility of the world’s waters. Niria Alicia Garcia is an organizer of Run4Salmon, a trail that follows the journey of salmon from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the McCloud River, calling attention to the impact of climate change on rivers and ecosystems, in general.