In the lead-up to the first global United Nations (UN) water conference in almost 50 years, I arrived on the steps of the UN in New York on World Water Day, 22 March 2023, after completing 200 marathons around the world as part of the Run Blue campaign.
Water is everything, but we often treat it as if it is nothing. With Run Blue, I wanted to go to the frontlines of the water crisis. Not only to see those communities and people impacted, but to understand the nature, extent, and urgency of this problem. Most importantly, I wanted to elevate the voices of those on the frontlines and inspire people to take meaningful action on water.
I was fed up with being told that water is such a complicated issue. I wanted to show that hard things are not impossible things.
Across my journey, it was clear that creative collaboration is a vital part of how we need to address the global water crisis. This is why I support global water technology company Xylem on the Protect Your Watershed challenge, which goes beyond country boundaries to look at impacts across ecosystems and water basins.
Water doesn’t come from a tap; it comes from healthy ecosystems. I saw this in the Amazon, where you can see the water cycle in full flow - even rising out of the trees. That transpiration creates clouds that get blown down south. Then you go to Sao Paulo, to the favelas where their water supply is impacted by drought caused by deforestation thousands of miles away.
I ran through some beautiful ecosystems and sadly watched as people dumped rubbish directly into rivers and deltas. As societies, communities, and individuals, we need to come together and value our rivers, lakes, and wetlands for all the diverse benefits they provide to people and nature, and we need to treat them as the priceless resources they are.
I saw many communities struggling to get safe access to water and sanitation services across Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia. We depend heavily on our rivers and waterways for transportation and manufacturing. They are vital for our economies and societies.
Our water basins don't recognize the artificial boundaries that we've created as humans. They recognize their natural boundaries, and I think that's something that we need to remember and approach in an open, collaborative way. During my journey, I saw problems close up, often in grim detail, but that isn’t all that I saw.
I witnessed stories of hope and stories of collaboration where people were truly working together to create proper, meaningful solutions on the ground
In India, I saw collaborations between communities of farmers that created cooperatives where they work together to share information and better ways to access technology and knowledge. We met a factory owner in Türkiye who supplies cotton to top-end brands. He realized that he had a major challenge with water access to grow his cotton and approached the companies he sold to for help. They connected him to world-class experts, and he now deploys regenerative cotton practices in his fields.
The water industry also needs to get better at listening to local communities, to the people on the frontlines, and understand the nature of the problems that they're facing. It is only by working together that we can make a real, meaningful impact.
Most small-scale farmers or business people don't have access to the capital required to make changes by adding new technology, however. So, in addition to technological innovation to solve water challenges, we also require innovation in capital application to enable the distribution of that technology across the spectrum of businesses of all sizes and geographies.
It takes many partners working together to rethink the status quo and change behaviors like Xylem is doing to engage people through its Protect Your Watershed event.
Each of us has choices to make every day. We can conserve a lot of water by taking shorter showers, thinking about the food we are consuming, and reducing waste. We also all have a vote that we cast for politicians and through choices on how we spend our money. Making deliberate decisions to act is a meaningful way to create change.
Please join our community of thousands and thousands of people around the world taking action on water. And you can start making change by checking out Xylem Watermark’s mission and the simple actions we can all take to protect our local watersheds.