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Smolan & Erwitt continued From Front flap

Michael Malone, Bill McKibben Jeffrey Rothfeder, Michael Specter, Paul Hawken and Mike Cerre.

S THE ARAL SEA, once a glistening body of water, has lost two-thirds

S TAEKO TERAUCHI-LOUTITT runs along the Donau River in Vienna,

of its volume because its source rivers were diverted for cotton irrigation

Austria on June 18, 2007. Born in Tochigi, Japan, Taeko started running 16

during the Soviet era. Previously the fourth-largest lake in the world – the

years ago. Her selfless decision to run around the world had an unexpected

size of Southern California – much of it is now a dry graveyard of rusting

personal benefit when she fell in love with fellow runner Canadian Jason

shipwrecks. This desertification has produced toxic dust, resulting in

Louttit during the three month relay race.

Chris Emerick

respiratory diseases and cancers in communities downwind of the lake.

IN REGION AFTER REGION AROUND THE GLOBE, water — or put another way, control over

Gerd Ludwig

rapidly diminishing supplies of clean water — is at the heart of many of the world’s most Jin Zidell asked if we could meet because he wanted to do something to make a

raw geopolitical disputes, some of which have already rippled into dangerously destabilizing

difference in a world that appeared to be spinning out of control. Like Ashok, Jin had

conflicts.

lost a loved one, his wife, and had spent a long and profound period in mourning. To

Not surprisingly, among the hottest flashpoints is the Middle East, where water is at a

those of us who were his friends, his heartache seemed bottomless and immeasurable.

premium and disagreements are in abundance. Virtually every political, social and military

But on that day we met for lunch, Jin seemed different. He wanted to do something

strategy undertaken by Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other nations in the area is

to honor Linda. What struck me as we spoke was the scope of Jin’s dreams. His eyes

driven by its impact on access to water. Consider the Golan Heights, captured by Israel during

were as big as his love for Linda. His grief had become resolve.

the Six-Day War in 1967. Formerly southwest Syria, this rugged plateau is home to headwaters

When Jin asked me to suggest a way he could make a real difference I suggested that

of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, two of Israel’s most essential sources of water.

he do something that was measurable, something that could change an individual’s life

Despite Syria’s saber rattling and widespread international condemnation for its occupation

in a single day, that he focus on a global problem that could be solved in a decade,

of this territory, Israel refuses to retreat from the Golan Heights because it fears that Syria would divert the water supply, as had been threatened in the early 1960s.

an endeavor that could actually push the needle with respect to improving peoples’

Similarly, the 2006 Lebanon-Israeli war was fought primarily in southern

lives and the environment. He looked at me puzzled and asked, what would that be?

Lebanon, where tributaries of the Jordan River lie. Hezbollah

I knew of only one thing: water. Ninety minutes later, he left determined to find a way

has vowed to control the water resources for Lebanon, even if

to provide safe drinking water to 200 million people for the rest of their lives by 2027.

Israel has to do with less.

Since that day, Jin has never looked back.

50 percent

Five years later the Blue Planet Run Foundation has three major initiatives under way.

Meanwhile, in a mirror image of these disputes, the Palestinian rejection of peace accords in

The first is the Peer Water Exchange, which aims to enjoin thousands of

the late 1990s grew in large part out of concern that these pacts ensured that Israel could

non-governmental organizations to find, fund and share the best water projects around

determine how much water Palestinian areas receive. The Palestinians claim that Israel has

the world. The second is the extraordinary photography book you are holding in

capped their per capita water consumption at about 18 gallons of water per day, compared to

your hands, designed to bring home Jin’s belief that that pure water is a right, not a

about 92 gallons for the typical Israeli.

commodity.

It’s no wonder that soon after signing peace treaties with Israel, the late King Hussein of Jordan

The third initiative of the Blue Planet Run Foundation is the circumnavigation of the

and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt pointedly noted that only a quarrel over water could bring

globe by runners, symbolizing a circle in our hearts and minds, a closing of the loop

them back to war with Israel.

of love, care and responsibility that people share for each other. From June 1 through

In large or small ways, similar brinksmanship occurs with disturbing regularity in regions already

September 4, 2007, a team of 22 dedicated runners set aside their own lives for 95

tense with enmity that has evolved over generations:

days to carry a message to the entire planet that undrinkable water is unthinkable in

S In Southern Africa, the waters of the Okavango River basin are pulled in four directions

today’s world. If the Blue Planet Run Foundation can change the world to ensure that

by Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, with hardly a cordial word spoken;

no child will ever be harmed by the water he or she drinks, then it will be one of the

The number of people who don’t have access to the quality of water available to the citizens of Rome 2,000 years ago

S In the Indian-controlled territories of Kashmir, where headwaters of the Indus River

great miracles of the 21st century. And Jin’s dedication to the memory of the person he

basin reside, Pakistan has threatened to use nuclear weapons against India if any of its

loved most will have changed the world.

water supply is interrupted;

— PAUL HAWKEN

S

AN ARMED GUIDE walks on a cliff above the Nile River near Amarna, Egypt. The Nile flows

through 10 countries in eastern Africa, but by force of a nearly 80-year-old treaty, Egypt commands most of its waters, a source of dispute and strained relations for decades. Upstream countries, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, have proposed dams on the river to aid their own development. But these plans have been condemned by Egypt as it anticipates its population doubling over the next 50 years. 134

Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic, Getty Images

Blue Planet Run

1.1 billion

S In Sri Lanka, violent conflicts have broken out between government armies and a rebel group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who closed a provincial sluice gate in protest over government delays in improving the nation’s water system; S In Kenya, dozens were killed and thousands fled their homes when youths from the

The number of people worldwide — 1 in every 6 — without access to clean water

Maasai and Kikuyu tribal communities fought with machetes, spears, bows and arrows and clubs over water in the Rift Valley. The behavior is irrational, yet the motivation has an undeniable logic. Decades of poorly designed irrigation techniques, the construction of massive dams, toxic dumping, wetlands and forest destruction, industrial pollution, residential sprawl, lack of conservation and misuse have taken a dire toll on global water resources, and clean fresh water is becoming scarcer in every corner of the planet. The worst conditions are in places like Haiti, Gambia, Cambodia and Mali, where residents subsist on an average of less than 2 gallons of water per day — fewer than three large bottles of bottled water and well below the 13 gallons per day considered the amount of water needed to meet a minimum quality of life. With less and less water to go around, the idea that people would begin to fight over what’s left — and over who determines who gets what remains — is anything but outlandish. And while richer countries like the United States have been hiding water shortages with engineering sleights of hand, this strategy is now backfiring. Southeast Florida, southern California, Atlanta and parts of Texas are all likely to be dry within 20 years if their growth patterns and management of water aren’t sharply altered. In the United States, the water wars are more often waged in court. For example, after 30 years and no end to the amount of money being spent on attorney fees, three states in the southeast are still feuding over the Chattahoochee River. Rising north of Atlanta, the Chattahoochee is the sole water supply for the sprawling city’s metropolitan area as well as a source of downstream water for two neighbor states, Alabama and Florida. Providing water for Atlanta’s uncontrolled population boom — the city has grown from 2.2 million people in 1980 to 3.7 million people in 2000 — severely taxes the Chattahoochee. The city’s largest treatment plant tapped 3.8 billion gallons a year of the river’s water when it opened in 1991; now it pumps nearly 20 billion gallons annually. If, as expected, Atlanta’s population reaches 5 million by 2025, the Chattahoochee won’t be able to handle the load.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

But that isn’t slowing Atlanta down. Instead, the city is aggressively making plans to squeeze more water out of the Chattahoochee by building a dozen additional dams and reservoirs on

KIBBUTZ HATZERIM gained a territorial foothold in Israel’s Negev Desert

the river. This, in turn, has raised the ire of Alabama and Florida, which claim that Georgia is stealing the river for itself. Farmers in southern Georgia are siding with Alabama and Florida against Atlanta, as their irrigation allotment falls. Depending on the outcome of the many

S WITH A POPULATION of 18 million growing by almost 400,000 every year, the water needs of

engineer Simcha Blass in 1965 to develop and mass-produce drip irrigation.

the residents of Mumbai, India, are staggering. Because water is prohibitively expensive, many slum

Netafim, the kibbutz’s irrigation business, now controls a large portion of the

dwellers rely on leaks found — or created — in the massive pipelines that carry water to more affluent

drip market, with $400 million in sales last year. Manager Naty Barak checks

neighborhoods. Mumbai’s have-nots avoid the garbage and human waste surrounding their dwellings by

receives less than 8 inches of rain annually.

Alexandra Boulat

Blue Planet Run provides readers with an extraordinary look at the water problems facing humanity and some of the hopeful solutions being pursued by large and small companies, by entrepreneurs and activists, and by nongovernmental organizations and foundations. By the end of the book, readers are left to form their own conclusions as to whether or how the human race is capable of taking the steps necessary to solve this global crisis before it is too late.

The number of people — two-thirds of the world’s population — who will suffer from water shortages by 2025

S SLUM DWELLERS scramble for water in Jai Hind Camp in the heart of Delhi, India. The camp is home to more than 4,000 migrant workers who are dependent on daily deliveries from public and private water trucks. Ironically, the middle class in India, which receives water via home faucets, pays a tenth of what the poor pay for their water delivered by truck. India has nearly 17 percent of the world’s population but only about 4 percent of its freshwater resources.

Stuart Freedman

ARMED MEMBERS of the rebel group MEND (Movement for

Emancipation of the Niger Delta) have destroyed oil facilities and forced the closure of a significant percentage of the area’s oil operations. They have turned to violence to protest the pollution of their country’s waterways and alleged degradation of the natural environment by foreign multinational corporations. On May 1, 2007 MEND caused Chevron to shut down some oil production when it reportedly attacked the company’s Oloibiri floating production, storage and offloading vessel off southern Bayelsa state. Michael Kamber

lawsuits and negotiations over water in the U.S. southeast, new residents of Atlanta may one day

more economical — and perhaps temper the water disputes — as the supply of water continues

soon turn on the tap to find it empty, southern Georgia farmlands could become permanently

to diminish and the price of water inexorably rises. Other solutions that could minimize the inevitable water wars require viewing water in a

While the global water crisis is growing ever more dangerous, there are nonetheless a few

different light — that is, as a shared resource that demands global cooperation to manage

potential winners — namely, those nations or individuals who have a surfeit of the precious

correctly. To that end, international funding agencies like the World Bank should use their

commodity or who develop new ways to produce and distribute it. With a population of only 30

financial leverage to direct that water development projects be initiated solely under regional

million and vast amounts of territory containing more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water,

umbrellas, jointly controlled by all of the nations in the area. And water mediation groups, such as

Canada stands to become the leader of an OPEC-like cartel as water takes its place next to oil

Green Cross International, founded by former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, should

as a depleted essential resource. To ship this water from Canada, as well as places like Russia,

be backed by a United Nations mandate to fulfill the charter of, as GCI describes it, “preventing

Greenland and the northern reaches of China, barges with massive liquid-holding bladders and

and resolving conflicts arising from environmental degradation.”

streamlined piping systems for bulk water transfers are already on the drawing boards, while new, less expensive and more efficient desalination techniques to make saltwater fresh are close to completion. All of these inventions and new ones beyond our imagination will become more and

Christopher Brown, Redux

reported as high as 70 percent in some major cities.

5.3 billion

parched, or economic growth in Florida and Alabama could be significantly stunted.

walking on top of the pipelines. Around the world, losses of fresh water due to leakage are routinely

the kibbutz drip lines, which feed corn, cotton and tomato crops in an area that

None of this will be easy. Ultimately, conflict is less difficult than cooperation. But we really have no choice: The way we respond to the water crisis will determine whether we survive. – JEFFREY ROTHFEDER

Published by Earth Aware Editions 17 Paul Drive San Rafael, CA 94903 800.688.2218 Fax: 415.526.1394 www.earthawareeditions.com

Blue Planet Run is two books in one: First, it is about an extraordinary 15,000-mile relay race — the longest relay race in human history — in which 20 athletes spent 95 days running around the globe to spread awareness of the world’s water crisis. Secondly, it is a showcase of powerful, inspiring, disturbing and hopeful images captured by leading photojournalists around the world who documented the human face of the crisis and its possible solutions. The result of these two parallel projects is the book you hold in your hands. One hundred percent of the royalties from this book will be used to provide clean water to people around the world who desperately need it.

Against All Odds PO Box 1189 Sausalito, CA 94966-1189 www.againstallodds.com

We call our planet Earth, but its surface is mainly water. We should call it Ocean. In the hollows of space, Earth abides as a sparkling oasis, afloat with jumbo islands, and always half hidden beneath a menagerie of clouds. In my upstate New York town, seven waterfalls tumble and spume in lofty dialects of water. Liquid scarves loop through glacier-carved gorges, and winter reminds us that light, airy bits of water can hurdle fences, collapse buildings and bring a burly city to its knees. In winter, ice forms a cataract on the eye of Lake Cayuga, but the lake never freezes solid. It can’t. Luckily for us. Eccentric right down to our atoms, we’d be impossible without water’s weird bag of tricks. The litany of we’re-only-here-because begins with this chilling one: We’re only here because ice floats. Other liquids contract and sink when they freeze, but water alone expands, in the process growing minute triangular pyramids that clump to form spacious, holey designs that float free. If ice didn’t rise, the oceans would have frozen solid long ago, along with all the wells, springs and rivers. Without this presto-chango of water, an element that one moment slips like silk through the hands and the next collapses rooftops and chisels gorges, Earth would be barren. Since life bloomed in the seas, we need perpetual sips of fresh water to thrive. Become dehydrated, as I once did in Florida, and the brain’s salt flats dry out, mental life dulls, and only S THERE IS NO MORE or no less water available for human use now than there more than others. In Canada, where karst limestone cliffs line Death Lake in the Northwest Territories, a twentieth of the world’s population enjoys almost a tenth of the world’s fresh surface water.

Raymond Gehman, Getty Images

It will cost up to $1 trillion in the next 30 years to clean up contaminated groundwater at some 300,000 sites in the United States.

Blue Planet Run

Drinking Dinosaur Water

33

www.blueplanetrun.org

27

Drinking Dinosaur Water

The world’s major cities could save more than 40 percent of their annual water supplies by fixing leaks in water mains and pipes.

FOUL SMELLING WATER mixed with coal had been running from Kenny Stroud’s faucet for

more than a decade before clean tap water was finally provided by the city of Rawl, West Virginia, last March. For years, residents of the Appalachian coal-mining town had to rely on water trucks and bottled deliveries, a reality unknown to most citizens in the developed world. Their fight still continues in the courts against Massey Energy, a mountaintop coal-mining corporation, who they blame for pollution and illnesses disrupting their community.

Melissa Farlow

EVEN IN PROSPEROUS CITIES in India like New Delhi and Mumbai, city dwellers often have

water access for only a few hours a day. The public water distribution system is under so much stress that residents must rise at 3 or 4 a.m. to pump water into rooftop storage tanks. Here Vineela Bhardwaj vents her frustration to water authorities about frequent service failures. Battles over the water supply have become so common that Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, the Minister of Water Resources, sometimes describes himself as the “Minister of Water Conflicts.” Stuart Freedman

ALLISON COLE says the water in her well in Sheridan, Wyoming, turned into slurry after

gas drilling operations began nearby. The rolling plains of the Powder River Basin have been transformed by the drilling. Forty thousand wells and hundreds of miles of roads, pipelines and power lines now cover the landscape. To access the methane, companies pump millions of gallons of salty groundwater out from deep coal seams. Area residents have said the process pollutes their surface water and groundwater.

102

Blue Planet Run

Joel Sartore

We're All Downstream

US $45.00 ISBN-13: 978-1-60109-017-1 ISBN: 1-60109-017-X

9 781601 090171 32

electrolytes dripped into a vein keep death at bay. We are walking lagoons who quaff water

was at the dawn of humankind. But some areas of the planet have always had

5 4 5 00

103

THE RACE TO PROVIDE SAFE DRINKING WATER TO THE WORLD

Rick Smolan is a former Time, Life and National Geographic photographer best known as the creator of the Day in the Life book series. He and his partner, Jennifer Erwitt, are the principals of Against All Odds Productions, based in Sausalito, California. Fortune Magazine featured Against All Odds as “One of the 25 Coolest Companies in America.” Their global photography projects combine creative storytelling with state-of-the-art technology. Many of their books have appeared on the New York Times best-seller lists and have been featured on the covers of Time, Newsweek and Fortune. Their books include America 24/7, One Digital Day, 24 Hours in Cyberspace, Passage to Vietnam, The Power to Heal and From Alice to Ocean. They live with their two children, Phoebe and Jesse, in Northern California.

and kicked off a global revolution in agriculture when it partnered with water

BLUE PLANET RUN

In keeping with the theme of the book, two trees will be planted for each tree used in the production of this book and 100% of all royalties will fund safe drinking water projects. For more information on how you can help, visit www.BluePlanetRun.org

Blue Planet Run www.blueplanetrun.org

US Price $45.00 ENVIRONMENT/PHOTOGRAPHY

It is estimated that one billion people across the planet now lack access to clean water. But, as the extraordinary images on the following pages show, there are solutions to the world’s fresh water crisis, and they are within reach. This book, ostensibly about a world crisis, is also a work of optimism and hope. The Blue Planet Run volume you are holding in your hands represents two extraordinary projects. The first is the result of a worldwide search for images and stories to capture the human face of the global water crisis. For one month, 40 talented photojournalists crossed the globe taking photographs to show the extent of the problem. At the same time, a team of researchers contacted photographers on every continent to identify existing bodies of work focused on this crucial issue. Simultaneously, 20 runners representing 13 nationalities embarked on a 95-day nonstop relay race around the globe, serving as messengers to raise awareness of the severity of the water crisis. The Blue Planet Run is designed to be a wake-up call to the world, sounding both a warning and a note of hope, letting us know that there is still time to solve this problem if we act now, before it is too late.

CREATED BY RICK SMOLAN And Jennifer ERwitt

The book also features insightful original essays from an extraordinary range of noted writers, environmentalists, inventors and journalists including Diane Ackerman, Fred Pearce, Dean Kamen, continued on back flap

Cover image: Robert Randall


This book was made possible by a generous grant from the Blue Planet Run foundation

  Scott Harrison


 Mark Laita


Earth Aware Editions/Against All Odds Productions 17 Paul Drive San Rafael, CA 94903 www.earthawareeditions.com 415-526-1370 Created by Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt Against All Odds Productions P.O. Box 1189 Sausalito, CA 94966 www.againstallodds.com Copyright © 2007 Against All Odds Productions. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data available. ISBN: 1-60109-017-X ISBN-13: 978-1-60109-017-1

FOREWORD BY ROBERT REDFORD Introduction by Fred Pearce

REPLANTED PAPER

Essays by Diane Ackerman, Paul Hawken

Palace Press International, in association with Global ReLeaf, will plant two trees for each tree used in the manufacturing of this book. Global ReLeaf is an international campaign by American Forests, the nation’s oldest nonprofit conservation organization and a world leader in planting trees for environmental restoration.

Dean Kamen, Michael Malone, Bill McKibben Jeffrey Rothfeder and Michael Specter

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in Korea by Palace Press International www.palacepress.com

Created by Rick Smolan & Jennifer Erwitt

against all odds productions   For centuries, Brazil’s Pantanal, the largest freshwater wetland in the world, has been home to 3,500 species of plants, 400 kinds of fish, 650 bird species, 100 kinds of mammals and 80 different types of reptiles. At 68,000 square miles, roughly 10 times the size of the Everglades, the region has served as a natural water treatment plant, removing chemicals and other pollutants as water passes through its myriad winding channels. But today this delicate and remote environment is being affected by the rapid growth of industries, including gold mining and the demands of a thriving ranching culture. 

Scott Warren, Aurora Photos

S a n R a fa e l , C A l ifo r n i a


1.1 billion

The number of people worldwide — 1 in every 6 — without access to clean water

  With a population of 18 million growing by almost 400,000 every year, the water needs of the residents of Mumbai, India, are staggering. Because water is prohibitively expensive, many slum dwellers rely on leaks found — or created — in the massive pipelines that carry water to more affluent neighborhoods. Mumbai’s have-nots avoid the garbage and human waste surrounding their dwellings by walking on top of the pipelines. Around the world, losses of fresh water due to leakage are routinely reported as high as 70 percent in some major cities. 

Christopher Brown, Redux


  THe Aral Sea, once a glistening body of water, has lost two-thirds of its volume because its source rivers were diverted for cotton irrigation during the Soviet era. Previously the fourth-largest lake in the world – the size of Southern California – much of it is now a dry graveyard of rusting shipwrecks. This desertification has produced toxic dust, resulting in respiratory diseases and cancers in communities downwind of the lake.  Gerd Ludwig

50 percent The number of people who don’t have access to the quality of water available to the citizens of Rome 2,000 years ago


1.8 million The number of children who die every year from waterborne diseases – one every 15 seconds

  These fifth-grade students in Beijing are quickly discovering that the environment is paying a steep price for their nation’s booming economy: China’s water and air are becoming increasingly toxic. Seventy percent of the country’s major rivers no longer support life, and 25 to 33 percent of the population ­­— more than 300 million people — do not have access to safe drinking water. 

Fritz Hoffmann


40 billion The number of hours spent each year in Africa due to the need to collect and haul water

  Kenyan villagers on low-lying Pate Island gather brackish drinking water from small holes in the sand, less than 300 feet from the ocean. More than 2 billion people around the world rely on wells for their water. Clean water has become an increasingly scarce resource as water tables continue to drop at an alarming rate. 

George Steinmetz


5.3 billion

The number of people ­— two-thirds of the world’s population ­— who will suffer from water shortages by 2025

  Slum dwellers scramble for water in Jai Hind Camp in the heart of Delhi, India. The camp is home to more than 4,000 migrant workers who are dependent on daily deliveries from public and private water trucks. Ironically, the middle class in India, which receives water via home faucets, pays a tenth of what the poor pay for their water delivered by truck. India has nearly 17 percent of the world’s population but only about 4 percent of its freshwater resources. 

Stuart Freedman


Foreword by Robert Redford 19 Introduction by Fred Pearce 20

Drinking Dinosaur Water  26

Essay by Diane Ackerman

Poisoning the Well  44

Essay by Bill McKibben

Water 2.0  80

Essay by Michael Malone

We’re All Downstream  90 Essay by Michael Specter

Water : The New Oil  134 Essay by Jeffrey Rothfeder

A Billion Slingshots  168 Essay by Dean Kamen

Blue Planet Run  212

Essays by Paul Hawken and Mike Cerre

  Unlike millions of women in Africa who must walk an average of 4 miles to collect potable water every day, Violet Baloyi of South Africa is fortunate to get her drinking water directly from a tap. Thanks to the PlayPump water system, powered by the motion of children at play, Violet and other residents of Vuma Village have access to free and clean drinking water. 

Samantha Reinders


s  Boys play in polluted, oil-fouled water near Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The Niger Delta has been the scene of significant unrest in recent years as rebel groups have emerged to protest oil extraction by multinationals and the Nigerian government. In the delta’s urban communities, less than 50 percent of the people have access to safe drinking water; the number drops to less than 25 percent in rural areas. 

 Michael Kamber

Foreword by Robert Redford

You Are the Solution There are many myths about water. One is that we have an infinite supply, if we could just figure out how to liberate it — from the sea, from aquifers deep in the ground, from ice caps and glaciers. Another myth is that the cycle of evaporation and rain alone will continually provide us thirsty humans with clean water to drink. Yet another is that the rivers, streams and oceans are so vast, so deep, so plentiful that we tiny human beings can just keep dumping our trash, our waste and our chemicals into these waterways and nature will simply absorb it all and miraculously transform it back into clean drinking water. The final myth is the most disturbing. Many people in the developed world still assume the global water crisis has nothing to do with them — that it’s a crisis for “those poor people, over there.” The painful truth is the water crisis is now on every continent and in cities large and small. The water crisis affects every human being on the planet, but most of us just aren’t paying attention yet. The cost of our neglect can be seen in the disturbing images in this book. It is estimated that 1 billion people across the planet now lack access to clean water — and that number is growing by the day. This doesn’t have to happen. As the extraordinary images on the following pages show, there are solutions to the world’s freshwater crisis, and they are within reach. The idea of a billion people without access to clean water may seem too immense to ever be solved. And yet, we already know the solution for half of those people: Five hundred million of the world’s poorest people, particularly those living in rural areas, could obtain clean water for life for a cost of just $30 each by using such simple techniques as wells, boreholes, gravity-fed springs and rainwater harvesting. No fancy technologies, no big, expensive institutional projects — just pragmatic applications of low-tech solutions can get us halfway to our goal of clean water for every person on the planet. And we can do it right now. It is facts like these that make this book, ostensibly about a world crisis, also a work of optimism and hope. All that we need is the will to make that hope real; to make the emotional and financial commitment to get the job done. Water is life. As we share this Blue Planet, we must promise each other that no person will ever again have to live — or die — without clean, fresh water. Fulfilling that promise is within the reach of each of us.

Foreword  19


Introduction by Fred Pearce

Blue Revolution It begins with a few thin clouds in the clear blue sky over the Indian Ocean. The clouds are barely noticeable at first, as the wind picks up water vapor that has evaporated from the ocean and carries it north toward land. The vapor condenses to form droplets, and the droplets coalesce. The clouds grow and darken. Thunder claps, and the first giant raindrops fall on the southern tip of India. The monsoon, the planet’s greatest annual weather system, has begun its magic. The clouds sweep north across the subcontinent, enveloping the land in curtains of rain and bringing relief to a parched and overheated land. Life returns. The drenching is brief but complete. In about 100 hours, spread across 100 days, millions of villages across India receive virtually their only rain of the year. The rain swells rivers, floods low-lying land, fills reservoirs and irrigation canals, turns deserts green and brings crops to life. The water then percolates down through soils to fill the pores in rocks beneath.

Monsoon rituals are repeated all across Asia, and in modified form in communities around the world. Almost everywhere, the first rains are a time for celebration and thanksgiving. In Southeast Asia, fishermen and farmers wait for the first spring flows to revive the Mekong. In China, the Yangtze River brings waters that will feed more than 1 billion people. In the Americas, farmers watch the skies for the first hint of storms that have formed over the Caribbean. In Africa, there is a special nervousness: If the rains fail, it can mean famine and starvation. Water is our most fundamental natural resource. The stuff we drink today is the same water that the first fish swam in and that froze across much of the globe during the ice ages. Our planet probably has no more and no less water than it has ever had. And yet, in some places, we are beginning to run out of water. Underground reserves that farmers could once reach by dropping a bucket into a well only a few feet deep are now so low that a hole bored half a mile down still finds no water. The great rivers we first heard about in geography lessons — strong blue lines on our atlas maps stretching all the way from mountains to the oceans

  Even though 70 percent of the planet is covered with water, Greenland's frozen landscape provides hard evidence that most of the world's fresh water is locked up in glaciers and ice, leaving less than one 20  Blue Planet Run

percent available for human consumption. 

NASA-JSC, Getty Images


  The seasonal runoff from glaciers provides drinking water for a sixth of the world’s population, more than 1 billion people. But with global warming expected to permanently melt one quarter of the world’s glaciers by 2050, these natural frozen reservoirs are beginning to disappear. 

Sean Nolan

— are running dry. In the real world, the blue lines have sometimes given way to desert. The Nile in Egypt, the Ganges in India and Bangladesh, the Indus in Pakistan, the Yellow River in China and the Colorado in the United States are among the rivers that no longer always make it to the sea. Nature’s water cycle is not faltering. But our demands on it are increasing so much that, in some places at some times, we are exhausting our water sources. Few of us realize how much water it takes to get through the day. On average, we drink not much more than a gallon of the stuff. Even after washing and flushing the toilet we consume only about 40 or 50 gallons each. But that is just the start. It is only when we add in the water needed to grow what we eat and drink that the numbers really begin to soar. It takes between 250 and 650 gallons of water to grow a pound of rice. That is more water than many households use in a week. For just a bag of rice. It takes 130 gallons to grow a pound of wheat, and 65 gallons for a pound of potatoes. And when you start feeding grain to livestock for animal products like meat and milk, the numbers become yet more startling. It takes 3,000 gallons to grow the feed for enough cow to make one quarter-pound hamburger, and between 500 and 1,000 gallons for that cow to fill its udders with a quart of milk. Agriculture is easily the biggest user of water in the world today. Two-thirds of all the water that we take from nature ends up irrigating crops. Whenever you eat burgers made of meat from Central America, or clothes made from Pakistani cotton, you are influencing the hydrology of those countries — taking a share of the Indus River, the Mekong or the Costa Rican rains.

Take cotton, the poster child of water consumption. Cotton grows best in hot lands with virtually year-round sun. Deserts, in other words. But it needs huge volumes of water. In order to grow its cotton, Pakistan consumes almost a third of the flow of the Indus River — enough to prevent any water from reaching the Arabian Sea. Australia does much the same to the Murray River. In many places around the world, we are taking two, three or even four times more water from local rivers than we took a generation ago. And there is a surprising reason for this: It is the flip side of a great global success story — the green revolution. I am old enough to remember, back in the 1960s and 1970s, when the great fear was that the world would not be able to feed itself. Population was expected to double in 30 years. And we asked ourselves, how on Earth could food production double to keep up? California biologist Paul Ehrlich announced: “The battle to feed the world is over…Billions will die in the 1980s.” But it didn’t happen. The world’s population did double. But so did food production. Scientists came to the rescue. They produced a new generation of high-yielding varieties of crops, like rice and corn and wheat, that kept the world fed. But it now turns out that those super-crops use much more water than those they replaced. So, while the world grows twice as much food as it did a generation ago, it takes three times more water to do it. We thought we were going to run out of land to grow food. Instead, we are running out of water. In India, the rivers are so dry that farmers have sunk more than 20 million tube wells into the Earth in the past decade to find water and irrigate their crops. But these farmers are essentially “mining” ancient water, and now even these underground reserves are running out.


Economists estimate that by 2025, with current water use patterns and the growing population, water scarcity will cut global food production by 350 million tons a year. That is rather more than the current U.S. grain harvest, and the equivalent of a loaf of bread every week for every person on the planet. For hundreds of millions of people, that disappearing loaf may be the only one they have. And if the current boom of growing crops to make biofuels continues, then the demand for water from the world’s farms will be even greater. If, say, the world converted a quarter of its fuels to biofuels, that would effectively double our water demand for crops. No wonder that in dozens of countries — Pakistan, Mexico, India, China and Indonesia among them — there have been water riots in recent years. And soon, nations may even go to war over water. In the Middle East, water is as big a source of conflict between Israel and its neighbors as politics and religion. There are no treaties for the sharing of some of the world’s greatest international rivers, upon which tens of millions of people depend for survival. It all sounds like bad news. Yet I remain optimistic. Access to water is widely regarded as a human right that no one can be denied. We need to come together over water. And to do that, two things need to happen. First, we need to use the water cycle better — for instance, by catching the rain where it falls. We need a modern version of the old water tank catching rainfall from the house roof. And it is starting to happen: In Asia, farmers are reviving ancient methods of capturing the rain as it falls on their fields, and then pouring it down their wells for storage underground. Whole villages join in, and the effects on their crop yields are often profound.

Second, there needs to be a revolution in the way we use water. We have to begin treating it like the scarce resource that it is. Municipalities need to reduce leaks in water mains — in most of the world’s cities, between a quarter and half of the water put into distribution networks never reaches homes because it simply leaks away. Similarly, we need to reduce the vast losses from evaporation at reservoirs. Did you know, for example, that more water evaporates from behind the Aswan High Dam on the Nile in Egypt than is delivered to homes and factories throughout Britain in a year? Meanwhile, much, much more wastewater should be recycled by humans a few times before we give it back to nature. We can do that in our homes. Changes to domestic plumbing would allow water from the shower to be used to flush the toilet, for instance. But the biggest water savings worldwide must be made by farmers, who are the biggest users of water, especially in the driest countries. Tens of millions of farmers around the planet still irrigate their crops by flooding their fields. It is an incredibly wasteful process: Most of the water evaporates and little, in practice, reaches the plants. But cheap, modern systems of drip irrigation — delivering water drop by drop close to the crop roots — can cut water demand by 40 or 50 percent, or in some soils even 70 or 80 percent. We need a “blue revolution” to breed crops that use water better and to train farmers to use water more sparingly. The simple truth is that we are abusing nature’s water cycle. To protect our rivers and assure water supplies in the future, we must use less water and leave more to nature. The days of seeing the stuff as a free resource, available in unlimited quantities as a guaranteed human right, are over.

  Clouds move toward Chicago above Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes, which together hold a fifth of the world’s — and 90 percent of U.S. — surface fresh water. Proposals to divert some of this water to fast growing cities in the United States have prompted border states and Canada to ban bulk water transfers out of the region. However, due to international trade agreements, like NAFTA, debate will continue over water’s classification as a commodity.    Jon Lowenstein, Aurora Photos


We call our planet Earth, but its surface is mainly water. We should call it Ocean. In the hollows of space, Earth abides as a sparkling oasis, afloat with jumbo islands, and always half hidden beneath a menagerie of clouds. In my upstate New York town, seven waterfalls tumble and spume in lofty dialects of water. Liquid scarves loop through glacier-carved gorges, and winter reminds us that light, airy bits of water can hurdle fences, collapse buildings and bring a burly city to its knees. In winter, ice forms a cataract on the eye of Lake Cayuga, but the lake never freezes solid. It can’t. Luckily for us. Eccentric right down to our atoms, we’d be impossible without water’s weird bag of tricks. The litany of we’re-only-here-because begins with this chilling one: We’re only here because ice floats. Other liquids contract and sink when they freeze, but water alone expands, in the process growing minute triangular pyramids that clump to form spacious, holey designs that float free. If ice didn’t rise, the oceans would have frozen solid long ago, along with all the wells, springs and rivers. Without this presto-chango of water, an element that one moment slips like silk through the hands and the next collapses rooftops and chisels gorges, Earth would be barren. Since life bloomed in the seas, we need perpetual sips of fresh water to thrive. Become dehydrated, as I once did in Florida, and the brain’s salt flats dry out, mental life dulls, and only   There is no more or no less water available for human use now than there was at the dawn of humankind. But some areas of the planet have always had

electrolytes dripped into a vein keep death at bay. We are walking lagoons who quaff water

more than others. In Canada, where karst limestone cliffs line Death Lake in the Northwest Territories, a twentieth of the world’s population enjoys almost a tenth of the world’s fresh surface water. 

Raymond Gehman, Getty Images

Drinking Dinosaur Water  27


  Underground aquifers dozens of miles deep and hundreds of miles wide, are the Earth’s second-largest reserve of fresh water (after ice caps and glaciers). These vast underground repositories contain more than 100 times the amount of water held in rivers and lakes. Filled over billions of years, aquifers are today being drained at two to four times their natural recharge rate in order to supply a third of the world’s drinking and irrigation water. Here, a team of recreational spelunkers drops into the 160-foot-deep

and also bathe in it, irrigate with it, paddle through it, simmer with it and are rained on by it, so we rarely notice how magical water is. A natural insulator, it can cool overheated cars, mills or humans, and it can slowly change the air temperature, giving us the gradualness of seasons. Water can be solid, liquid, vapor, crystal. It can cascade or seep, be soothing or corrosive, act as mirror or lens, serve as a traffic lane or a roadblock or a sacrament. And though water often looks like glass, and in some brittle forms can shatter like glass, and in others flow thick and slow as glass, it’s not made of silica as glass is. But it does sponsor glass. The sandy skirts edging some oceans are a form of glass, crafted by water. We live in bondage to hydrogen, a small, common waif of an atom, and fat, combustible oxygen. When hydrogen cozies up to oxygen, the magnetic attraction is so fierce it’s hard to pry them apart. They always assume the same open-armed pose, the three atoms angling at precisely 104.5 degrees from each other. In portraits water looks animal: two hydrogen atoms form the ears, one plump oxygen atom the face. This makes it versatile, flexible, dynamic, its bonds continually breaking and reforging, and every puddle of water reacting as one electronic whole, a fellowship that may extend to entire oceans. A flowing thermos, water absorbs, holds and transports heat for long enough to create hospitable coastlands. The Gulf Stream, a wide river inside the ocean, every hour delivers millions of miles of warm water to northern shores. Rivers also churn through the air, as water evaporating from the tropics becomes water vapor that drives the winds. Endlessly levitating, falling and condensing, no water is new — all of it, every drop, is recycled from somewhere and somewhen else. The water in the stalk of celery I am eating right now may have fallen as rain in the Amazon last year, or it may have been slurped up by a dinosaur millions of years ago. We’ve learned how to catch and carry water, but 97 percent of Earth’s water lies in the oceans, 2 percent in snow; the rest falls to us for irrigation, drinking and survival. Covering half of the planet, clouds look collaged onto the sky, Rorschach-like nomads that collapse and fall as rain. Thousands of tons of water, millions of drops, they look serene but are unstable, jostling hordes. In one form or another 70 cubic miles of water falls to Earth every day, but not, alas, precisely where we may wish. Half of the world’s rain showers down on the Amazon, where it falls thick as rubber. That’s the only place I know where the air can hold 100 percent humidity without raining. Aerial water can’t compete with the oceans for sheer volume, of course, but snowmelt and rain replenish lakes and rivers, springs and wells, and abounding life forms, including 6 billion humans. Drinking, eating, excreting and thinking water, our tissues are marshes and estuaries,

Neversink Pit in Alabama. 

 George Steinmetz


  The water cycle endlessly repeats itself. Every day, enough water to cover the planet’s surface a tenth of an inch deep falls from the sky. And roughly the same amount evaporates from the oceans and land. It stays in the air for about 10 days until it eventually condenses to form clouds before falling back to the Earth as rain. 

 Daniel Beltrá

our organs islands, our bloodstreams long rivers with creeks and feeders. Sloshing sacs of

Our food is mainly water. Water connects us to every other facet of life on Earth, in one

chemicals on the move, we leak from many orifices throughout our lives and still carry the salty

large flowing enterprise. Predator and prey share water holes, friends and foes share oases.

ocean in our blood, skin, sweat and tears. Menstrual periods mirror the tides. We need water

Without water, cultures founder and civilizations die.

to oil joints, digest food, build the smile-bright enamel on our teeth. We are water’s way of reflecting on the life it promotes.

We may say and think humans walk, but what we really do is flow. When we lie down like spirit levels, our waters flatten, but they keep moving, sliding, gliding, renewing. Does life

The soul of water is change. Colorless, transparent, odorless, tasteless, water will dissolve

exist elsewhere in the universe? Look for water. Water allows even unrelated substances

almost anything on its travels through the ground and body, carrying sap and serum, minerals

to mix, tumble, blend and bark with electricity. Because water dissolves things, it’s easy to

and blood, tiny chem-labs to power thought, and at times abominations. It sponges up the world

pollute, and because water is persuadable, it’s easy to rule.

around it, absorbs new personas. And, then, for a while at least, it struts out of the shadows, takes the stage and becomes visible, seasoned, a creature of substance with a real personality.

Water, water everywhere. Insistent, incessant, in torrents, in teacups, water clings to cool rocks, wobbles prisms of dew, shapes pudgy fingers and eyes, inks the layout of cities and

For one bushel of wheat, farmers need 20,000 gallons of water. A tree is 75 percent water,

the love life of squids, reflects so poignantly we use the image to describe our mental world,

an apple 80 percent water, a fetus 97 percent water, an adult man 70 percent water, an adult

tempers the rain-guzzling cottonwoods and willows, pools below ground in the water table

woman 50 percent (more body fat). This means a 150-pound man is about 105 pounds of water.

where life dines, swirls on invisible winds across the sky, bubbles saliva at the sight of a ripe

Because we’re mostly water ourselves, surrounded by water, we go with the flow, water down proposals, spend money like water, have liquid assets, dilute drinks, take the plunge, booze until we’re pickled, go through baptisms of fire, try not to be bores or scoundrels of the first water. No one wants to be shallow. Past events we banish as water under the bridge.

apricot, oozes sweat during a dragon boat race, imbues even the driest dust with a smidge of damp, puffs up seed pods, supplies a bucket brigade of bees with coolant for summer hives, corrupts the face of cliffs, incises granite, incants as it trickles over pebbles (whose echo lives in the Aramaic word “poet”), excites the nutrients in broth, incubates life in womb-time, incurs the wrath of both neighbors and nations (the word “rival” originally meant to share

Gushing out alive after nine months afloat, we nonetheless fear death by water, fear getting in

the same stream), incites border wars, indents coastlines, invigorates farmlands, stiffens plant

over our heads, until we’re drowning in work, flooded by emotion and flailing just to keep our

stems, conducts traffic between empires, cools forges and whetstones, frets rock until it

head above water while we dissolve into tears. Unless we deep-six whatever was needling us.

leaches minerals, echoes with whale songs, crackles with fish talk, one moment shimmers

Water can be docile, too, and so easily influenced that the slightest breeze blowing on it, or

like a drape of shot silk and the next lies gray as pewter, twirls petticoats, hoists chemicals,

the tiniest pebble dropping into it, is enough to roll small waves across the surface. And so we

is easily indoctrinated or nimbly coaxed into silos, geysers up as life’s wellspring and, upon

picture laughter rippling around a table, or a few words setting off a froth of excitement.

reflection, heralds the beginning and end of all thirst.

On our planet at least, living plants and animals need to ferry nutrients and send messages.

So, protecting the planet’s fresh water becomes an act of self-preservation. Though we can’t

Both require a benign liquid. Life is opportunistic, it adapts, and it exploits what’s available. In

always see downstream from reckless events, we pay dearly for that short-sightedness. Not

one form or another, water greets us every day, from the liquid we splash on our faces to water

if, but when. The web of life trembles on such fragile threads. Listen, now, in the distance, a

locked inside the cells of nutritious heads of grain. We water our plants, our homes, our bodies.

calamity, can you hear it? Like thunder warnings before a summer storm. — Diane Ackerman


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Drinking Dinosaur Water  33


On average, no more than a third of the wastewater in developing countries is treated before being discharged into rivers, streams and lakes.

100 years ago, London, New York and Paris were centers of infectious waterborne disease, but today they boast some of the best public water systems in the world.

  Shamans perform a soul-cleansing ritual at Peguche Falls in Ecuador during the Inti Raymi fiesta, an ancient Incan celebration of the sun. The water is believed to give a person power to work and courage to dance for the fiesta. 

 Ivan Kashinsky, WPN

 Hindu pilgrims travel thousands of miles to collect a bottle of water from the headwaters

of the sacred Ganges River, and they proudly display the bottle in their homes for the rest of their lives. An important part of ritual purification in Hinduism is the bathing of the entire body, particularly in rivers considered holy. 

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Qilai Shen, Panos Pictures

Drinking Dinosaur Water  35


Over the last three decades, the portion of India’s population with access to clean drinking water has grown from 17 percent to 86 percent.

  Water plays a central role in many religions around the world.

In Varanasi, India, 60,000 Hindus bathe in the Ganges River every day. While the faithful believe that water cleans and purifies the body, the World Wildlife Fund considers the Ganges to be one of the world’s 10 most endangered rivers due to the over-extraction and pollution of its waters. Ami Vitale, Panos Pictures

  Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem collect water from a mountain spring to be used to bake matzoh (unleavened bread) after the Mayim Shelanu ceremony, which involves letting water settle in a cool place overnight. Water is a source of increasing conflict in this region because Israel controls water supplies for both the West Bank and the Jordan River. 

 Menahem Kahama, Getty Images

Drinking Dinosaur Water  37


Frozen Assets Every day, hundreds of millions of people throughout the world

awaken in the fearful knowledge that, before anything else, they must find fresh water to survive. And in their single-minded pursuit, these multitudes often go to incredible — sometimes superhuman — lengths to find, gather, carry, store and sometimes even sell to their thirsty neighbors that precious fluid. In ways we can hardly imagine, their lives are defined by the scarcity of clean, fresh water. Take Baltasar Ushca, for example. Ushca, 64, is a hielero, an “ice man,” and every week for a half-century he has climbed to the very top of the world to collect that ice. Ushca spends four hours climbing to the summit of Mount Chimborazo, the farthest point from the center of the Earth, and uses his pickax to harvest as much glacier ice as his donkey can carry. The precious cargo is wrapped in paja, a plant found high in the Andes, and loaded onto the burdened animal. The two then trudge back down to the mountain to the village of Riobamba. There, he puts the ice into a covered hole to protect it from melting. On market day, Ushca delivers the ice blocks to anxious local vendors, who quickly chop the ice up to make hugely popular fruit drinks. Much of the appeal of the drinks lies in the belief by locals that the pure glacier water is especially good for their health. Within hours the ice is gone. Only then is Ushca paid $7 for his efforts. When the following week rolls around, the ice man and his long-suffering donkey once again embark on their climb to the top of the mountain. — Michael Malone

Ivan Kashinsky

Drinking Dinosaur Water  39


Baltasar Ushca starts the four-hour trip up the Mount Chimborazo on his quest to bring back ice from ancient glaciers. 

 Ushca uses axes and spades to hack away chunks of glacial ice before he loads his donkey for the return trip. 

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 Ivan Kashinsky

 Ivan Kashinsky

 At the markets of Riobamba, Ushca lugs the ice, still wrapped in straw to minimize melting, to local drink vendors. 

Ivan Kashinsky

  Locals rave about the freshness of Maria Leonor Allauco’s fruit smoothies, which are blended with Ushca’s glacial ice. 

Ivan Kashinsky

Drinking Dinosaur Water  41


According to the United Nations, children in the developed world consume 30 to 50 times as much water as they do in the developing world.

  In July 2007, remote sensing experts at Boston University reported

the discovery of an enormous underground reservoir of water the size of Massachusetts beneath Darfur in western Sudan. While this vast Sub-Saharan region used to be among the most lush and fertile in the world, today it is one of the driest and most troubled places on Earth. In recent years, more than 200,000 people have died in Darfur, partly due to disputes over water and other natural resources. Humanitarian groups working to end the conflict in Darfur are optimistic that this “mega-lake” could help ease tensions in the region. 

 Michael Kamber  In Iran, Sayed Shukrallah performs maintenance on a qanat, an ancient

subterranean water distribution system consisting of tunnels that can transport groundwater to settlements almost 40 miles away. These plasterlined tunnels, some as deep as 30 feet, are difficult to dig and require almost constant maintenance due to silt buildup. The arduous and dangerous work is traditionally left to boys; their fathers stand near the entry shafts in case a 42  Blue Planet Run

tunnel collapses and they have to rescue their children.

 George Steinmetz


It’s common knowledge that you can survive for weeks without food. But without water? A few days, at the most. We are mostly water and our planet is mostly water — indeed it’s often called the ‘water planet,’ its blue seas and white cloudy mists forming the dominant features we see from space.  Yet in many ways water is scarce. Ninety seven percent of the planet’s water is undrinkable sea water, most of the rest is locked up in glaciers and ice caps, or falls in places far from people. Even so, we’d have enough places, if we hadn’t figured out a staggering list of ways to pollute and squander our birthright.  The most obvious examples loom large in our collective memory. Forty years ago America awoke one morning to discover that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was on fire. When a river catches on fire, that gets our attention. One would think that billions of dead fish bobbing to the surface of ponds and lakes and rivers all over the world would be a clear sign that something was seriously wrong, but in most places those warnings are still being ignored. These are examples of our collective failure to see what is right before our eyes. But the subterranean, slow-moving and subtle water disasters — many of them occurring literally beneath our feet — should frighten us even more. Consider, for instance, the ways the United States has managed to overpump the invisible deep aquifers under its fields and cities. This might have been a warning to other nations, but greed and short-term gains have a curious ability to blind us to the bigger picture. Unfortunately, all of the major grain-producing countries adopted deep water pumping in the years right after World War II. The United States implemented this technology quicker, and thus encountered its problems first — but not by much, and by then, the rest of the world was already deeply committed. The result is that China, India and the United States, as well as scores of other countries, are all starting to pump their reservoirs dry at the same time, which is right now. Over the last decade the water table beneath the North China Plains and the Indian Punjab has been dropping by meters each year — in some places, tens of meters. These deep aquifers took millions of years to fill, and we are draining them in less than a century. This is not a resource that can be replenished overnight; it may take decades, if it’s even possible at this late date. And that’s only if we have the resolve to do it.

  Wastewater gushes out of a pipe at the state-owned Lianhua factory in China. Lianhua, which means “Lotus Flower,” is the largest producer of MSG in China and the largest polluter in the Huai River Basin. Worldwide, it is estimated that half of all major rivers are seriously polluted or depleted. 

Stephen Voss

Poisoning the Well  45


One result of this unconscionable and blind draining of humanity’s lifeblood is that a once-invisible disaster is

Take Bangladesh, home to 150 million people and one of the wettest places on earth. It’s the delta of the great

now suddenly surfacing. Just travel the countryside north of Beijing. You’ll meet scores of people who are in

sacred rivers of Asia — the Ganges and the Brahmaputra both reach the ocean here, finishing their descent from

despair because the same wells that their families had used for generations have suddenly run dry. China’s crisis

the high Himalayas in slow and stately fashion. One might think that water would be the least of the country’s

is so severe that the country is re-routing entire rivers in the south through thousands of miles of aqueduct in a

problems — indeed, Bangladesh has so much water that travel in many seasons is easier by ferry than by bus.

desperate attempt to serve the needs of the north.

But because Bangalesh’s water sits on the surface, it is vulnerable to many kinds of pollution — some from

But that diversion, in turn, is creating its own crisis. To deal with the water shortage, large regions of China are

industry, some from the spread of human waste. From the latter, for example, waterborne cholera has become

now switching from growing wheat, a notoriously thirsty grain, to corn, which uses less water but also produces

an endemic problem.

lower yields. The impact of that shift is, in turn, depressingly predictable: With smaller harvests, China has been forced for the first time to import grain from the West. In effect, China, for the very first time in its long history, is importing “virtual water” in the form of goods.

The United Nations thought it had a solution to the polluted surface water: Go underground. Mile-deep wells were dug across much of the nation, and people were urged to stop drinking surface water. Unfortunately, the U.N. forgot to check the underlying geology or to even test the underground water. Only when entire

The world has become too small in the 21st century for any nation to export its problems. And if you think these

communities of Bengalis fell sick did scientists determine that the new deep wells were bringing massive

problems are simply those of the developing world, then visit Las Vegas. Or Phoenix. Or…

quantities of arsenic to the surface, slowly poisoning the population.

This is just the beginning. When it comes to water, disasters cluster. Already, there are places on Earth where

Bangladesh is the canary in the coal mine for an impending water crisis that may well engulf us all: climate

water-based crises are mounting so fast that it is hard to know where to begin to solve them. The solution to

change. Mankind, without much forethought, has been conducting the largest and most extensive hydrological

one problem exacerbates another.

experiment in history — and, like the sinking cities and drying wells of the world, the disastrous results are only now beginning to reveal themselves.

  Visitors are cautioned to stay away from the Las Vegas Wash, an artificial wetland that helps recycle wastewater from the fastest-growing city in the United States. Approximately 65 million gallons of treated water, including water from casinos, are returned to Lake Mead every day by the city’s Water Pollution Control Facility. 

Tiffany Brown


Consider the Ganges and Brahmaputra, both now fed by ever-faster melting glaciers. The two rivers in turn pour into the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, an ocean that has now begun to rise. That higher sea in turn acts as a kind of fluid dam, forcing the rivers to spread out in a devastating flood. By mid-century, according to some estimates, much of Bangladesh will be underwater. Raising the planet’s temperature, in fact, will disrupt almost everything aquatic on earth. The salient scientific fact is that warm air holds more water vapor than cold. Thus in arid areas, one can expect more evaporation: Computer models show that virgin flows along the Colorado River, for example, may drop by half as the century proceeds. That’s bad news for a West that already strains that river to slake its thirst. But if humanity seems to always ignore problems until they reach crisis proportions, so too does it have the capacity, once mobilized, to bring vast amounts of energy and ingenuity to solve those problems. And so it is good news that we’ve at least begun early experiments in water-saving agriculture, such as new, less-thirsty varieties of plants, drip irrigation and water recycling. In the United States, 35 years of the Clean Water Act have meant that we can swim in and drink from far more of our lakes and rivers in the first years of the 21st century than the last years of the 20th. But will our solutions be efficient and sweeping enough to deal with what is now a rapidly expanding world-wide water crisis? Can our experiments spread fast enough to keep up with the pace of expanding consumer life, a life that, by its very nature, uses more and more water? Perhaps the only real hope is a change in mind-set toward valuing clean, fresh water at its true worth. Some of that new valuation will be, for lack of a better word, spiritual — learning to once again see water not as a commodity, in infinite supply, but as something precious, to be preserved and not taken for granted. The most spiritual human moments involve water, whether it is baptism in the Christian church or the ritual bathing by Hindus in the Mother Ganges. Pious Muslims wash before prayer; pious Jews before marriage. Water has always cleaned us — cleaned us literally, cleaned us of our sins, cleaned our minds and hearts. Now we must learn how to return the favor, to wash water itself free of the thousand stains we’ve inflicted on it in our heedless rush toward prosperity. — Bill McKibben   The United Nations estimates that half the hospital beds in the world are occupied by people with easily preventable water-related diseases. Here a young boy with malaria lies in a hospital bed in Sierra Leone. Worldwide, nearly 5,000 children die every day from water-related illnesses.   Brent Stirton, Getty Images


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Poisoning the Well  51


Home to more than 10 million people, metropolitan Manila is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The world’s population has increased by 150 percent in the last 50 years, from 2.5 billion in 1950 to more than 6 billion in 2000. The good news: national birthrates actually decrease as countries, like the Philippines, become more affluent. 

Mads Nissen

Multiplication Problem Overpopulation is the root of most, if not all, of the challenges facing mankind today,

including global warming, food shortages, air pollution, loss of plant and animal habitat, ocean contamination and of course, water shortage. The statistics are all too clear. During the 2 million years that human beings have been on the planet, we amounted to less than a quarter of a million individuals. Worldwide population didn’t hit the 1 billion mark until the early 1800s. But human growth has been exponential: We reached 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 5 billion in 1987 and 6 billion in 1999. Today population experts believe there are now 6.5 billion of us, with another hungry and thirsty 80 million mouths being added this year. We no longer simply inhabit the planet, we overwhelm the planet. And there’s no end in sight. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, “Our collective exploitation of the world’s resources has already reached a level that could only be sustained on a planet 25 percent larger than our own.” Ironically, the biggest problem is that we’ve become too good at prolonging our own lives. Major advances in science, technology, hygiene and medicine have doubled our life expectancies and dramatically lowered our mortality rates. Today, around the globe, six babies are born per second and three people die per second. At the same time that more of us are living longer, we are also reproducing more. More people living longer lives means exponential population growth, since each person has the ability to produce numerous offspring, and each offspring can birth many more. The United Nations projects that by the year 2050 there will be somewhere between 8 billion and 10 billion humans — an increase of roughly 50 percent over today’s world population. Resources like fresh water are already at a straining point in many countries around the world. What do we do when there are 50 percent more of us vying for the same dwindling resource?

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Poisoning the Well  53


Cape Town, South Africa, has grown rapidly since the end of apartheid in 1994, and it embodies a demographic sea change: Soon a majority of the world’s population will live in cities for the first time in history. Worldwide, population has tripled in the last century while water use has grown sixfold.  

George Steinmetz

  Anna Hazare demonstrates the power of the individual. A former army truck driver, he was a self-described brawler before he decided to change his life, and his village, Ralegan Siddhi. As a result of Hazare’s efforts, his village has become a model of rural economic development in India. He advocated the building of dams and canals, which enabled villagers to grow new crops. Trees were planted and slopes terraced to help retain rainwater. After 20 years of such efforts, the village now has water all year round. Hazare, strongly influenced by the teachings of Gandhi, says, “It is impossible to change the village without transforming the individual. Similarly, it is impossible to transform the country without changing its villages.” 

Atul Loke


Residue from antidepressants, birth control pills and antibiotics are found in 80 percent of U.S. waterways and groundwater, according to the EPA.

The United Nations has recognized 1,400 wetland areas around the world that are being protected from development, a collective area the size of southern Europe.

  Water supplied by the public utility in the Brittany region of France has become unsuitable for human consumption due to contamination from pesticides and intensive livestock farming. Today nitrates, toxins, heavy metals and harmful microorganisms are found in groundwater in nearly every European country and the former Soviet republics.  Johann Rousselot, Oeil Public

  Green algae is growing almost everywhere off the Florida Keys, even on an underwater statue known as “Christ of the Abyss.” Divers often scrub the statue with wire brushes but have a hard time keeping it clear of the algae. Sewage and water runoff that contains fertilizers feed the growth of algae and bacteria, which in turn consume huge amounts of oxygen, choking plant and animal life, including 220 miles of Florida coral. And every day, about 1 billion gallons of sewage is pumped into the sea or into aquifers that leak into the ocean. 

56  Blue Planet Run

Stephen Frink Collection, Alamy

Poisoning the Well  57


Beneath the frozen ice of the Ural River in Russia, affected by waste from Lenin Steelworks, fish have become too contaminated for local fishermen to eat. Instead, they send their catch to distant markets. The Ural River is not an isolated case either. Many water sources have become so polluted and overfished that 1 in every 5 of the world’s freshwater species have become extinct, threatened or endangered in recent decades. 

Gerd Ludwig


One quart of untreated wastewater pollutes 8 quarts of fresh water.

  In Varanasi, India, untreated sewage flows directly into the

U.S. cities began chlorinating water 100 years ago, saving thousands from diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis.

  Many residents of Queens, New York, say they won’t drink from

Ganges River, the source of drinking, bathing and irrigation water for 500

the tap anymore after officials in May 2007 found higher-than-normal levels of

million people. Despite the government’s best efforts, including $130 million

tetrachloroethylene, or PERC, which is often used by dry cleaners and in auto

for the river’s cleanup, millions of gallons of raw sewage are dumped into

repair shops. Chronic exposure to elevated levels can lead to dizziness, confusion

the Ganges every day. Worldwide, 2 million tons of human, industrial and

and nausea, and the Environmental Protection Agency says it is a probable

agricultural waste are discharged into rivers and lakes every day.

carcinogen. Fire hydrants are flushed to draw new water into the system, diluting

Amit Bhargava, Corbis

60  Blue Planet Run

any chemicals that might linger.

Uli Seit, The New York Times, Redux

Poisoning the Well  61


Half of the world’s 500 major rivers are seriously depleted or polluted by industrial, agriculture and human waste.

Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, infamous for catching fire in 1969, has been subsequently removed from the EPA’s National Priority List due to collaborative cleanup efforts.

  Industrial pollution, garbage and human waste have fouled the Congo River, yet those who live near its shores have no choice but to use it for their most basic needs — hydration, sanitation and transportation. In the poorest parts of Kinshasa, residents wind their way through mounds of garbage to obtain enough water to bathe and cook. 

Per-Anders Pettersson, Getty Images

  Money contributed by the leading industrial nations of the world has helped preserve the natural lifestyles of Indians living on their ancestral homelands in the Amazon. Concerned about the destruction of the rainforest, G8 countries set up a program that allowed 160 tribes in the region to mark and preserve their own territories. Non-indigenous people are required to have special permits to be in the area. Here, a Waipi family takes advantage of the fresh running water of the Amazon. 

62  Blue Planet Run

Gerd Ludwig

Poisoning the Well  63


Ecuadorian special forces stand in riot gear as hundreds march on the Superior Court of Justice in the Amazonian town of Lago Agrio, Ecuador, on Oct. 21, 2003. It was the first day of court proceedings in a lawsuit filed by indigenous people seeking environmental cleanup costs from Chevron. 

Lou Dematteis, Redux

The People vs. Chevron THE DAY THAT crude oil began to flow from Texaco’s wells in the

area around Lago Agrio in the Ecuadorian Amazon in 1972, was the day that hundreds of square miles of surrounding rainforest began its transformation into a toxic waste dump. Today, Chevron (which acquired Texaco in 2001) is in a multi-year legal battle with “Los Afectados,” 30,000 Amazonian settlers and indigenous people who contend that Chevron should be held responsible for the pollution and toxic compounds spread over 1,700 square miles of rainforest that have contaminated the Amazon watershed. Chevron presents itself as the victim and is spending millions of dollars a year on a high-priced team of lawyers, claiming that it is being extorted for problems it didn’t create. Interestingly, “Los Afectados” aren’t asking for money for themselves; they are asking for Chevron to accept responsibility for its actions and to invest the money needed to fix the mess so future generations are spared the health problems that currently plague the region. Even if the local inhabitants win, the cleanup could take decades and cost upward of $6 billion — meaning this might represent a landmark as the largest environmental lawsuit in history. In the May 7, 2007, issue of Vanity Fair, writer William Langewiesche commented on Chevron’s response to the lawsuit: “Chevron denies that it contaminated the forest, denies that there is a link between the drinking water and high rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and skin disease and denies that it bears responsibility for any environmental damage that might after all be found to exist. If Chevron can convince the court of the validity of even a few of those points, it will win the case and leave town. Worldwide the oil industry is watching.”

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Poisoning the Well  65


Unlined waste pits filled with crude oil are a sad legacy of Texaco’s 28 years of drilling in Ecuador. It could cost as much as $6 billion to ignore the waste oil left behind, but who will pay for it and how the oil will be cleaned up are still at issue. 

Lou Dematteis, Redux

  Texaco sprayed crude oil on dirt

  Angel Toala Marin’s home is near an oil well in Shushufindi, Ecuador, where waste has been dumped into local water supplies. When

roads to keep dust down while it operated in the

Angel contracted stomach cancer, doctors who diagnosed him blamed the contaminated drinking water. “I don’t think the oil company worried if

Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 through 1992.

they contaminated the water,” Angel’s wife, Luz Maria Marin, said the day after her husband died. “We knew the water was bad for our health, but

The practice still continues today in the town of

what could we do? There wasn’t water anywhere else.” 

Shushufindi. 

Lou Dematteis, Redux

Lou Dematteis, Redux Poisoning the Well  67


Secoya indigenous leader Humberto Piaguaje (in red) speaks at a demonstration after emerging from Chevron’s annual shareholder

meeting in San Ramon, California, on April 25, 2007. He announces, “Our struggle is not for money. We want you to repair the damage so our children do not have to continue suffering.” 

  A technician wearing a hazardous materials suit checks for life-threatening carcinogens in soil samples gathered in 2004 in the Ecuadorian forest near the town of Sacha. 

  Lou Dematteis, Redux

  Lou Dematteis, Redux

  The case against Chevron has been going on for four years, and it may take many more to decide. Soldiers stand guard at one of the company’s wells in 2004 as evidence is gathered for the case. 

  Lou Dematteis, Redux

  Chevron Vice President Ricardo Reis Veiga holds a news conference after the first day of hearings in Ecuador in 2004. The company denies that it contaminated the region and that the forest is polluted. It also dismisses the link between the water in the region and the high rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects and skin disease. 

68  Blue Planet Run

  Lou Dematteis, Redux Poisoning the Well  69


Indigenous group members use their bodies to spell out the message “Long live Yasuni” on July 5, 2007. The demonstration was part of a larger public awareness effort to protect Yasuni National Park, home to some of the most biodiverse habitat in the world. To avoid repeating the environmental disaster in the northern Amazon, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has reached out to the international community for compensation to protect the rainforest. 

  Pablo Fajardo is the lead Ecuadorian lawyer representing indigenous people in their landmark environmental case against ChevronTexaco. In many ways he personifies the David vs. Goliath quality of the case. Fajardo, who was born into extreme poverty, earned his college diploma at night and then completed his law degree in correspondence school. With only a year of law practice, he took over the case against the oil giant, squaring off against some of the most prominent U.S. corporate attorneys. But Fajardo says he is not intimidated. He attributes his confidence to the years he spent working in the oil fields of the rainforest, where he learned about the problems of pollution firsthand. Lou Dematteis, Redux

  Lou Dematteis, Redux


The world grows twice as much food as it did a generation ago, but it uses three times as much water to grow it.

Drip irrigation reduces water use by 30 to 70 percent compared with traditional flood irrigation or sprinklers.

  Foreign workers harvest tomatoes on the edge of Saudi Arabia’s Rub’ al Khali desert, also known as the Empty Quarter. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of all fresh water used every year, far more than industry or domestic uses, and by 2050 farms will have to feed an additional 2.7 billion people. 

George Steinmetz

Center pivot irrigation systems feed alfalfa crops near Wadi Dawasir, Saudi Arabia.

Farming is viable in this desert climate only four months a year, but fields need year-round water to stop salt from building up in the soil. Even outside the Middle East, salination is a growing problem in large-scale irrigated farming. Overhead sprinklers use less water than flood irrigation, but waste far more than ground-level drip tubing. 

 George Steinmetz

  Third-generation farmer Matthew Procter uses a GPS-wired tractor to plot, seed and lay out drip irrigation for 500 acres near Rocky Ford, Colorado. Water is scarce here, so lowand high-tech solutions come in handy for growers: Concrete-lined irrigation ditches eliminate seepage, and laser-leveled fields prevent runoff. With a computer, Procter can even set the water flow for his crops on any given day.  72  Blue Planet Run

Sergio Ballivian Poisoning the Well  73


Four quarts of oil discarded during an average oil change can contaminate up to 1 million gallons of water.

  Outside Shanghai, the village of Dongjin is known as “Cancer Village” for its polluted waters and resultant illnesses. Farmers say the Julong Chemical Co. plant’s wastewater poisoned the water supply, contaminated the region’s crops and contributed to dozens of cancer-related deaths. Residents are now trying to shut down the plant and restore the river to health. 

 The children standing next to these outhouses in the Niger River Delta

symbolize a paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. Despite the fact that multinational oil companies have pumped more than $400 billion of wealth out of the world’s thirdlargest wetland, local residents have little to show for it. Pollution has affected the air quality, soil fertility, waterways and wildlife, and it has even resulted in acid rain. As a result, fishing and agriculture are no longer productive enough to sustain the area.  Ed Kashi, Aurora Photos

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Mads Nissen


Americans now consume more than 28 gallons of bottled water per person per year. Only about 23 percent of the bottles are recycled.

New water bottles engineered with cornstarch biodegrade in 80 days, compared with traditional plastics, which may take several hundred years.

  Mountains of “e-waste” have been shipped to China, where

  A worker at a recycling center in Shanghai sifts through the plastic

families who used to work on farms have taken to scavenging among the

bottles that arrive in China by the boatload. Bottled water is now a $100

piles of keyboards, motherboards and discarded computer components in

billion a year industry, second only to soft drinks in the beverage sector.

Chaoyang County in southern Guangdong Province, among other places.

In the United States, the leading consumer followed by Mexico and China,

The e-waste contains hundreds of extremely toxic substances, including

fewer than 25 percent of the bottles are recycled, contributing 2 million tons

lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and other heavy metals that leach into

per year to landfills.  

the groundwater. 

Reuters

Alessandro Digaetano

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Poisoning the Well  77


More than 1 billion people live in slums around the world, often without access to water, due to utilities refusing connections without a formal property title.

Over the last 30 years, 5,244 patents for water purification have been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

  There are 37 shantytowns in the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, most of which do not have reliable water services. The city has 2 million inhabitants, a tenfold population increase in the past 30 years. People and animals bathe together in water that is provided by the city but is not fit to drink. 

Shaul Schwarz, Getty Images

  Dean Kamen is a man full of ideas and enthusiasm. Probably best known for his Segway scooter, he recently turned his attention to the world’s water crisis. He has developed a small refrigerator-sized machine called the Slingshot, which can transform the most polluted water into clean water in just a few seconds. A team of engineers and scientists is working around the clock at his DEKA laboratories to reduce production costs so the device can be made more widely available. A veteran inventor, Kamen already holds more than 440 patents. And as the founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), Kamen hopes to instill his excitement for the prospects and promises of technology in the next generation of innovators. Jason Grow

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Poisoning the Well  79


When a crisis seems too big to solve, the real problem may be that we are applying the

Clearly, the strategies have failed. But if national governments and giant international institutions,

wrong solution.

regional bureaucrats and community leaders can’t find the answer, who can?

For the last 50 years, governments, foundations and other major institutions have tried to tackle

The answer may lie at the nexus of two new powerful technologies: the Internet and online

the global clean water crisis through big, and often hugely expensive, regional water projects.

communities. It just may be possible to harness the creativity and the real-life experiences of

Billions of dollars were spent, dams built, wells dug, rivers diverted.

the millions of people affected by the water crisis — and then tie them with potential funders,

The result? The crisis has only gotten worse. The big

together using the extraordinary collaborative power of the Web.

water projects, while generally successful, also required

In other words, an online community could share best practices, monitor itself and be capable of

enormous funding; Even among more modest projects, it

scaling up to deal with a vast number of unique local water challenges, all at the same time. Such a

is estimated that less than 50 percent of all ventures over the last half-century actually succeeded

scenario would be impossible for even the biggest traditional institution, but it is precisely the kind

in achieving their goals. There were successes, but not enough to keep up with the deteriorating

of challenge solvable by the Web.

global situation.

The Peer Water Exchange, or PWX, a project of the Blue Planet Run Foundation, is the brainchild

None of this was the result of bad intentions; on the contrary, almost all of these projects, big and

of a former high-tech executive, Rajesh Shah. PWX breaks with the traditional — and failed —

small, were based upon goodwill. Yet cumulatively they still failed to solve — indeed, even make a

models for dealing with the world water crisis. Instead, it recognizes that the only real answer

dent in — the problem.

for the needs of hundreds of millions of people in rural communities will come from thousands

And so, we fall ever further behind. Today, an estimated 1.1 billion people around the world lack clean and safe water. And the crisis, once largely restricted to the rural poor in developing countries, has now spread around the planet. At the beginning of the 21st century, most of

of small projects, implemented and managed by locals and customized for the unique problems of each community. PWX believes that it is these local projects that will ultimately find real, practical and sustainable solutions.

the world’s citizens facing shortages of fresh water were poor. But now millions can be found

The challenge becomes: How do you stay on top of all of these grassroots efforts? There are

everywhere from tiny farms and villages to giant metropolises. They live on every continent except

likely to be more than one million new water project proposals over the next two decades, tens

Antarctica. And right now, their prospects of ever enjoying safe drinking water are slim.

of thousands of them worthy of funding. But how do you manage all of these projects efficiently?

  Change is the word of the day in the village of Ralegan Siddhi in the Ahmednagar District of India. With funding from the Blue Planet Run Foundation, the local community has transformed itself into a model of self-sufficiency by repairing ponds to harvest rainwater, planting trees and terracing hillsides to reduce soil erosion. Most recently, the community has installed solar panels and windmills. Atul Loke

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  Vietnamese children like Tran Quoc Xu, 11, used to spend a significant portion of their day fetching water. Today a water system funded by the Blue Planet Run Foundation via PWX, in Dong Lam hamlet means villagers no longer have to travel great distances for water nor pay high prices to have it delivered. They previously paid $3.20

Once funded, how do you track their progress? And, finally, how do you disseminate tested principals from those that prove successful?

to have 250 gallons of water delivered by a truck vendor.

Shah readily admits that this kind of undertaking is beyond the ability of any individual organization

Now residents spend just 12 cents for the same amount. 

or agency. “My knowledge of water issues is intellectual,” Shah admits. “I’ve never dug a well or

Doan Bao Chao

organized a community. So, just because I can fund projects, does that mean they should take my advice, too? No — they are far better off talking to each other.” The answer, Shah believes, is to use the Internet to turn the traditional process upside-down — beginning with how projects are selected and funded, how they are managed and staffed and how their results are reported. This is where Shah’s technology and consulting experience has served him well. He understands that many of the most successful new enterprises in the 21st century are social networks. That is, from MySpace to Wikipedia, to giant online games such as Second Life, the most powerful new business model is one in which traditional top-down, “command and control,” business models are replaced with a radically new one in which the participants themselves build, manage and police the enterprise. As the hundreds of millions of users on these sites have quickly come to appreciate, this new participatory model results in a richer and more customized experience with greater flexibility and responsiveness. These efficiencies are precisely the results Rajesh Shah is looking for with PWX, as it knits the implementers in the field into a collaborative community so unique that the Blue Planet Run Foundation has applied for a patent. What this means in practice is that PWX invites reputable nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, to join the community. Periodically, PWX places funds into the program and requests that participating NGOs submit their applications for funding. That in turn sparks PWX’s most important innovation: peer review. Participants are asked to review each other’s proposals. Each proposal is seen by as many as seven participants — a process that not only results in large numbers of proposals being scrutinized quickly, but also ensures that innovative new practices are shared amongst the reviewers themselves. Funding is then awarded based upon these peer reviews. And the process begins again. As the reviewers will be judged by the success of these projects, they are motivated to stay in contact, offer advice and share best practices. All of this creates a transparent experience for everyone involved, Shah believes, a break from the old style of closed meetings held within giant foundations. “The participants are learning from each other; in fact, by having to review each other’s projects, they are forced to.” Expertise and experience can now be administered quickly where it is needed most. “We end up with a distributed volunteer staff that is far more expert than any we might hire,” says Shah.

Water 2.0  83


Chilukwa Primary School provides 400 boys and girls in Malawi, Africa, with a sound education, but until recently the school had no running water or bathrooms. In addition, waterborne illnesses caused many students to miss classes several times a month. To address the problem, a local organization used PWX to apply for funding to build a community tap, latrines and bathing facilities. 

Beth Gage

The result is a mutually supportive and collaborative community that encourages, in fact requires, sharing and learning. It also enlists those people closest to the problem — the hard-working practitioners in the field — thus recruiting expert hands at extremely low cost and overhead to address the problem. But most important, by enlisting members into the decision-making process, PWX should be able to scale up to almost any size and deal with almost any number of programs on a global basis — all without having to increase its own staffing or overhead. PWX can grow as big as the crisis it is taking on. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and one of the world’s leading experts on the global water crisis, says of PWX: “I’ve seen nothing else like it, and think it offers serious potential for improving transparency, information availability to the user, and the ability to understand what really works in the real world.” The Blue Planet Run Foundation has a goal of bringing clean and safe water to 200 million people by 2025. To achieve that, PWX is committed to acting as both platform and process to fund more than 200,000 peer-managed water projects around the world efficiently, transparently and effectively. The global water crisis will be one of the biggest challenges facing humanity in this century. But thanks to innovative ideas like PWX, which mix new technologies and organizational models in an explosive combination with the untapped genius of thousands of people, the goal of clean water for everyone no longer seems impossible. We may not have the right answers yet for the world water crisis, but we may now at last be closer to implementing the right solution. To experience the Peer Water Exchange, go online to www.peerwater. org. There you can read the proposals as well as the review comments …and perhaps be inspired to participate. — Michael Malone

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Water 2.0  85


On average, 30 percent of all charitable donations is consumed by administrative overhead.

100 percent of the donations to the Blue Planet Run Foundation goes directly to fund Peer Water Exchange-sponsored programs.

­­  Over the past 30 years the famed “Barefoot College” organization, started by Skoll Foundation Award winner Bunker Roy, has worked with the poorest of the poor — women, dropouts and unemployable youths — in remote villages in 13 Indian states. It has provided them with training through a self-help model that respects local knowledge and capability and promotes local organizations to make community decisions. The college’s heralded programs have been expanded thanks to funds received through PWX. 

The Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia

  Alfred nysunda has spent the last three years helping to alleviate critical water shortages at the Kisii hospital in Kisumu, Kenya. Rotary International has received funding through the Peer Water Exchange and has broken ground on a system that will provide more than 80,000 gallons of water per day — well above the hospital’s current daily need for 35,000 gallons. The hospital serves a population of 585,000, many of whom suffer from AIDS and malaria.

Stephen Digges

  IN LAS ROCHAS and other rural communities in northern Nicaragua, El Porvenir works closely with residents to install hundreds of wells and thousands of latrines, thanks to financial support from the Blue Planet Run Foundation. In an effort to increase sustainability, the group limits its projects to requests initiated by rural villages. At the same, it encourages residents to elect local committees to oversee the long-term maintenance of the water systems. 

Tim Wagner Water 2.0  87


A salmon counter at the Bonneville Dam in Oregon counts fish

as they swim upstream in the Columbia river. There are 45,000 large dams around the world that generate almost 25 percent of the world’s power. But dams are far from a perfect alternative to burning fossil fuels for energy production. They have a dramatic impact on the environment and have displaced millions of people from their homes. 

When used properly, nothing drives growth and eliminates

The result is both predictable and staggering. Half the hospital beds on Earth are occupied by people with easily

poverty more effectively than water.

preventable waterborne diseases. In just the past decade, more children have died from diarrhea than all the people

Clean water has done more for the health of humanity than any medicine or scientific achievement. In developed countries, diseases that were responsible for the great majority of deaths in human history — cholera, typhoid and malaria, for example — have been washed away by clean water. Often, all it took was a working sewer system. Good water has not only prevented illness, it has also produced the healthy crops that improve our nutrition. Irrigation for agriculture accounts for more than two-thirds of all water use. Sophisticated systems and giant water projects have helped produce an ever-increasing yield of food to satisfy the surging population of the Earth. Nearly

Joel Sartore

who have been killed in armed conflicts since World War II. If we did nothing other than provide access to clean water, without any other medical intervention, we could save 2 million lives each year. The tragedy is not just one of illness, it’s also the devastating loss of human productivity. Across vast stretches of the developing world, there is a daily routine that has hardly changed throughout the course of human history. Every day, for millions of women, the first duty is to forage for water. And as rivers run dry, sometimes along with the aquifers beneath them, the women have to keep going farther to find that water.

a quarter of all electricity is powered by hydroelectric turbines. Our products and services, the building blocks of

In parts of India and Africa, these women walk an average of 3.7 miles simply to collect potable water and bring it back

our cities and towns, our ability to forge steel and build spaceships, water plays a role in everything we do.

to their families — a long march home with 44 pounds of water balanced precariously on their heads (more than most

Sadly, in most countries water is not used effectively or governed well or intelligently controlled. Nearly half the people on Earth fail to receive the level of water services available 2,000 years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome. 90  Blue Planet Run

airlines allow for luggage). Heavy as the burden may be, though, it is almost never enough. Back in the slums and huts that half the planet’s population considers home, each person will need 1.3 gallons just to make it through the day, roughly the amount of water used in a single flush of a standard American toilet. We're All Downstream  91


Oil spills from legal oil extraction as well as smuggling operations have destroyed much of the natural environment and fishing grounds in the Niger Delta. Although international oil companies have extracted billions of dollars in oil from the impoverished region, little of the oil wealth is distributed to residents by the Nigerian government, routinely rated one of the most corrupt in the world by Transparency International. As a result, most inhabitants live without clean drinking water or electricity. Michael Kamber

Chronic pollution, promiscuous use, overcrowding and human waste have turned water into one of our most

When there are bountiful reservoirs and little threat of drought, nations thrive. But in the all too many places where

profoundly endangered assets. Two thousand years ago, there were 300 million people on the planet. Within the next

water policy amounts to little more than a distant dream and praying for rain, prosperity remains an empty promise.

50 years, demographers expect the number to grow to at least 8 billion — the great majority of whom will live in

We don’t think or even worry very much about water in the United States because here we have a per capita average

developing countries — yet the amount of water we all share and depend upon remains a constant.

of 6,000 cubic meters of reservoir water capacity, the world’s largest. Middle-income countries such as Morocco have

Without enough water, no country can achieve even modest economic goals. Irrigation helps communities overcome poverty. When water is plentiful more children go to school, they are healthier, and their parents work more.

about 500 cubic meters, and the poorest countries — Ethiopia, for example — have less than 50. Without adequate storage, entire nations become hostage to the frequently violent whims of nature.

Yet, throughout the Middle East and south Asia and much of Africa, water is growing scarcer by the month. Since

The number of illnesses caused by lack of water is hard to fathom. More than 3 million people — most of them

reservoirs aren’t sufficient, and many rivers have turned into junkyards or fetid swamps, millions have turned to digging

under age 5 — die each year of malaria and diarrhea alone. To put that another way, according to the World Health

wells to suck the groundwater from their land. But dig too deep and you’ll eventually hit arsenic, a deadly poison that

Organization, nearly 10,000 people die every day from easily preventable water-related diseases. Simply providing

pollutes all the water above it. In Delhi there are fewer than 30 days of rain each year, so people simply force tubes

access to clean water, without any other medical intervention, could save 2 million of those lives each year. And

into deeper and deeper holes and take what they can get away with. But when that water is gone, it is gone forever.

the solution is devastatingly simple: Studies show that access to piped water and sewers can, in many places, nearly

The city and its 15 million residents already suffer; when the water disappears from the wells it will get infinitely worse.

eliminate waterborne disease at a cost of less than $1,000 per death averted.

Delhi isn’t alone: Many other great urban centers are suffering the same fate. The water table under Beijing has fallen

A thousand dollars. What is a life worth? It’s not a small sum, but we live in an era when it is possible to participate in

by 200 feet in just the past two decades. Mexico City was built on the edge of a lake that no longer exists.

video conferences that link New York with China, or Tokyo with Tibet. There are people who earn millions of dollars


The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake and one of its biggest environmental dilemmas. Early in the 20th century, water from the Colorado River was mistakenly diverted into the Salton Sink, a prehistoric lake bed. Seeing an opportunity, developers dreamed of creating a resort oasis, but the idea never took hold, and the lake properties have since fallen into neglect. Now, the lake water is saltier than the ocean, and only tilapia can live in it. Still, migratory birds have made the area a rest stop on the Pacific Flyway, and more than 400 species visit the area. 

Gerd Ludwig

of interest income every day. What would it take to convince the rich world to spend enough so that African children

years ago,” he said. “It’s a shocker. People don’t believe it, but it’s true. We have changed the nature of our economy,

no longer die of illnesses that some of us don’t even realize still exist?

and we have become more efficient at doing what we want to do.”

In 2000, the United Nations established a series of urgent targets, called the Millennium Development Goals, aimed

It turns out that the biggest potential new source of water, not just in Delhi or Dar es Salaam but in Tokyo and San

at eliminating the world’s most desperate poverty. One of the goals seeks, over the next decade, to cut by half the

Francisco as well, is us. By conserving water and pricing it more realistically, we can dramatically reduce our needs.

proportion of people without access to clean drinking water. Another sets a similar target for improving sanitation

Agriculture will always require more water than any other human endeavor, but that doesn’t mean it has to be wasted.

services. The United Nations, which has designated this the “Decade of Water for Life,” estimates that if both goals

Until the 1960s, none of the vineyards in California used drip irrigation, which applies minimal amounts of water

are met, “only” 30 million to 70 million people would die in the next 15 years from preventable water-related diseases.

directly to the roots of crops. Today, 70 percent of them do, using less water to produce the same yield.

Yes, you read that right: “only” 30 million to 70 million.

Some farmers have begun to level their fields with lasers, making irrigation even more precise. And although genetically

Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, argues that

modified crops remain controversial, researchers have produced several strains of rice that require only a fraction of

management failures and political myopia are at least as responsible for water problems as shortages and population

the water most farmers use today.

growth. “Providing enough water to grow food for the planet is and will continue to be a challenge,” he said. “So is limiting the damage pollution has caused. Still, how can any government that cares for its people let them die of something so simple as a lack of clean water? But they do, in numbers that are staggering. This problem is so fundamental and so widespread, yet it’s not like curing AIDS or eradicating malaria. It is not scientifically challenging. It’s just a matter of whether or not we care about the most vulnerable people on our planet.” While Gleick can cite dreary statistics, evidence of governmental inaction, and worrisome trends with great rhetorical force, his central message, which is often ignored by both planners and environmentalists, is surprisingly hopeful. “It is a little-known fact that the United States today uses far less water per person, and less water in total, than we did 25

“I would argue that almost everything we do on Earth we could do with less water,” Gleick told me. “This is really good news, you know. Because it means we can do better. We don’t need to run out of water. We just need to think more seriously about how we can avoid using it.” Try to think about that the next time you water the lawn with federally funded filtered water, which is safe enough to drink. Or brush your teeth. Or when we leave the shower running for a few minutes to answer the phone. Every drop of water we casually waste is literally a drop of life taken from the mouth of someone else we will likely never meet, but whose fate we will most certainly determine. — Michael Specter


  High levels of bacteria, fluoride and cancer-causing hydroxybenzene have polluted the water in the village of Liu Kuai Zhuang, China, where Ji Shaolian, with her daughter, weeps over the death of her husband. He died of lung cancer at age 58. Villagers say that even after government crackdowns and factory closings, smaller operations continue to pollute secretly as local officials turn a blind eye.  

Natalie Behring, WPN


Developing countries with access to improved water and sanitation enjoy average annual growth rates more than 30 times countries without such access.

  Two Chinese soldiers check bottled water in Harbin after the city’s 3.8 million residents lost access to drinking water for five days due to a chemical plant explosion in 2005. The initial announcement of water stoppages led to panic buying of water and food, sending prices soaring. Authorities said there was no sign that the city’s water supply had been contaminated, but the Beijing News showed pictures of dead fish washed up on the banks of the Songhua River near the city of Jilin.   Chen Nan, epa, Corbis

  Lago de Chapala , in the Mexican state of Jalisco, has shrunk to a quarter of its original size and has DDT levels 3,400 times higher than regulations allow. Sewage and fertilizer runoff have fed huge algae blooms, and at certain times of the year it becomes difficult for indigenous people to navigate the lake in their small fishing boats. 

 Anders Hansson, WPN

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It will cost up to $1 trillion in the next 30 years to clean up contaminated groundwater at some 300,000 sites in the United States.

The world’s major cities could save more than 40 percent of their annual water supplies by fixing leaks in water mains and pipes.

  Foul smelling water mixed with coal had been running from Kenny Stroud’s faucet for more than a decade before clean tap water was finally provided by the city of Rawl, West Virginia, last March. For years, residents of the Appalachian coal-mining town had to rely on water trucks and bottled deliveries, a reality unknown to most citizens in the developed world. Their fight still continues in the courts against Massey Energy, a mountaintop coal-mining corporation, who they blame for pollution and illnesses disrupting their community. 

Melissa Farlow

  Even in prosperous cities in India like New Delhi and Mumbai, city dwellers often have water access for only a few hours a day. The public water distribution system is under so much stress that residents must rise at 3 or 4 a.m. to pump water into rooftop storage tanks. Here Vineela Bhardwaj vents her frustration to water authorities about frequent service failures. Battles over the water supply have become so common that Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, the Minister of Water Resources, sometimes describes himself as the “Minister of Water Conflicts.”  Stuart Freedman

  Allison Cole says the water in her well in Sheridan, Wyoming, turned into slurry after gas drilling operations began nearby. The rolling plains of the Powder River Basin have been transformed by the drilling. Forty thousand wells and hundreds of miles of roads, pipelines and power lines now cover the landscape. To access the methane, companies pump millions of gallons of salty groundwater out from deep coal seams. Area residents have said the process pollutes their surface water and groundwater. 

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Joel Sartore

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Since 2000, floods, droughts and other water disasters have killed nearly half a million people and affected 1.5 billion people.

Despite population growth in the United States, total water use today is lower than it was in 1980, and per capita use has dropped 25 percent in the last 30 years.

  When severe monsoons hit Bangladesh in 2004, only water pumped from wells was safe in the district of Munshiganj, about an hour from the capital of Dhaka. The worst flooding in 15 years killed 700 people and left 10 million homeless. And an estimated 76,000 became ill with symptoms of diarrhea from drinking contaminated surface water. 

Dieter Telemans, Panos Pictures

  Beverly Landrey’s well in Gillette, Wyoming, went dry after decades of regular use, so she has to depend on bottled water from her neighbors. Landrey and other homeowners believe the water supply disappeared because of nearby coal bed methane operations.  Kevin Moloney, Aurora Photos

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Freshwater wetlands, though threatened by human activity, are vital habitat to more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystem except rainforests.

  The dry season in Kenya puts animals on the move in search of water. Elephants arrive from the arid surrounding plains to the green grasses at Lake Amboseli in Amboseli National Reserve, Kenya. An elephant will never stray far from a water supply because it needs to drink about 40 gallons a day. Over the course of a year, an elephant can drink more than 15,000 gallons of water. African elephants can detect water flowing underground and when desperate will dig down to find water in a riverbed that has run dry.  George Steinmetz

  Nilawati Shelake balances precariously as she retrieves water from one of the 200 wells dug in the village of Sindhi Kalegoan, near Aurangabad, India. She, like many women in the developing world, is the primary water gatherer in her family. On any given day, she may make five to seven trips to her well to meet the needs of her farm and family of five. 

Atul Loke

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In the developing world, when a water source is farther than half a mile away, per capita daily consumption drops from 5 gallons to approximately 1 gallon.

The Blue Planet Run Foundation has found that it can provide one person with safe drinking water for a lifetime for just $30.

  India is digging more wells in a desperate search for fresh water. There were just 2 million wells in India 30 years ago; today there are 23 million. But as more water is taken from aquifers beneath villages like Dudu, Rajasthan, the country is running through its groundwater supplies faster than they can be replenished. 

 Ruth Fremson, The New York Times, Redux

  The daily ritual of collecting water has worn a pattern into the Bandiagara escarpment of the legendary cliffside village of the Dogon Valley in Mali. Less than half of Mali’s 12 million people and only a third of its rural inhabitants have access to safe water.   Dieter Telemans, Panos Pictures

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At any given time, approximately half of all people in the developing world are suffering from a waterborne disease.

Simply washing hands with soap and water can help reduce the 2 million deaths attributed to diarrhea every year by more than 40 percent.

  Hundreds of thousands of people in the West Bengal area of

India have been affected by high levels of arsenic in the groundwater. Hafiza Begam warns the villagers of Chandalati, outside Calcutta, about using the tainted water for drinking and cooking. As India has had to sink its wells ever deeper in the search for water, the danger of arsenic contamination has increased. Thousands of people are suffering skin lesions caused by arseniccontaminated water. 

Sucheta Das, Reuters, Corbis

  When Bangladeshis were advised by UNICEF in the 1970s to dig wells rather than use dirty surface water, the results were unintentionally catastrophic. Millions of people were exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, and 40,000 developed internal and external cancers, pulmonary diseases, neurological disorders and arsenicosis, a painful combination of skin lesions. UNICEF has since tested half of the country’s wells for arsenic. 

Michael Rubenstein, WPN

  Abul Hassam grew up in Bangladesh learning firsthand about the need for inexpensive water filters that remove arsenic. Now, as a member of the faculty at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., he has designed a filter that uses recycled materials, including sand, charcoal, bits of brick and shards of porous iron. For his innovation, he was awarded a $1 million Grainger Challange Award, 70 percent of which he has pledged to spend on making the filters more widely available in Bangladesh. More than 30,000 filters have been distributed so far, and about 200 filtration systems are being made each week.  110  Blue Planet Run

 Shahidul Alam We're All Downstream  111


Liu Tianheng looks at his X-ray at the Shenqiu County Hospital. Liu has stomach cancer and brought his X-ray along with his medical records to meet with the head of the cancer unit at the hospital, Dr. Wang Yong Zeng. 

Stephen Voss

Population in Peril The cancer ward of Shenqiu County Hospital is busy on this

weekday morning. Bicycles and motorbikes are scattered around the dusty brick courtyard, and a doctor’s jacket hangs from a tree to dry. People stand in a line outside a small one-story concrete building, patiently waiting their turn for a few minutes with Dr. Wang Yong Zeng, the chief oncologist. Most carry a life’s worth of medical records with them, clutching the thick folders full of X-rays and documents tightly to their chest. Shenqiu County, in the eastern part of Henan Province, has seen occurrences of stomach, liver, esophageal and intestinal cancer rise dramatically in the past 15 years. Houses sit empty where whole families have died, villagers are bedridden with sicknesses they are too poor to have diagnosed, and many continue to drink the polluted water because there is no other option. The majority of the 150 million people who live along the Huai River Basin are farmers and depend on the river water to irrigate their crops. Unfortunately, the Huai is one of the most polluted stretches of water in the country. “Many people come here after it’s too late,” says Dr. Yong Zeng as he holds an X-ray up to the window light to examine it. Poor farmers suffer for months and even years before they go to the hospital, knowing that if they are diagnosed with cancer, they won’t be able to afford any treatment. In many villages, entire families go into debt for medical bills they will never be able to pay. China’s handling of the environment has been nothing if not consistent over the past 2,000 years. It is difficult to find a time in China’s history when anything but environmental devastation occurred in the name of

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economic and social progress. As far back as 202 B.C., the Han Dynasty dealt with the growing population by urging its people to cut down forests to make way for more farmland. More recently, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward sought to combat the Industrial Revolution of the West by forcing people throughout the country to build steel smelters. From 1958 to 1959, an estimated 10 percent of China’s forests were cut down to fuel these backyard furnaces. Over China’s long history, the lack of environmental regulation has led to the growing desertification of China’s grasslands, massive flooding that has devastated its farmlands, famine that has killed tens of millions of people and industrial pollution that has poisoned the river. “People don’t live here anymore,” explains Wang Zi Qing, pointing to a rundown house in Dong Cun Lou Village in the Henan Province. Like most houses in the village, the floor is made of dirt, and steel bars in the windows do little to block the cold wind. A faded red bed frame sits in a corner of the main room, and dusty ceramic dishes are neatly stacked in a row on a woven

  Xue Huaqi is prepared for radiation treatment at Shenqiu County Hospital. Xue, 64, has lung cancer that has spread to his brain. His

records indicate the areas that will be targeted in the treatment. 

 Stephen Voss

mat by the door. This house, however, is empty, left behind by an entire family that died of cancer. Zi Qing lifts his shirt to reveal a thick red scar on his stomach from a recent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. His older brother and his younger brother died of cancer within a month of each other. He has been a fisherman for most of his 60 years, but he is no longer able to make a living or even feed himself from the river. Dong Cun Lou Village is similar to many of the villages in rural Shenqiu County. Muddy dirt roads run through it, and chickens and stray dogs roam freely. None of the one-story brick houses have running water, and only the Party official in town can afford electricity. Its population of 1,500 used to rely on the Shaying River, a major tributary of the Huai that runs by the town. They fished, washed their clothes and even drank directly from the river. The fish are mostly dead now, and contact with the water can bring on itchy rashes and peeling skin.

  Debris lies at the base of a pipe that releases black water from the Lianhua Gourmet Powder Company, which manufactures MSG, among other products. It was only after villagers blamed their stomach and intestinal ailments on the dumping that Lianhua provided them with clean tap water. However, the factory continues to pollute the water that runs through the village. 

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 Stephen Voss

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Huo Daishan grew up near the Huai River and worked as a newspaper photographer before he began hearing stories about the river pollution and cancer cases. After seeing two of his friends die from cancer, he decided to devote his life to cleaning up the river. Lianhua Gourmet Powder Company is surrounded in every direction by farmland. Daishan climbs the metal staircase to the top of the factory’s massive wastewater treatment tanks during a recent and unexpected tour of the factory, and they roar to life. The still, black water begins to swirl and foam, turning a silty brown, while an acrid odor like rotting meat fills the air. According to company executives, the treatment plant cost $430,000 to build, and it appears to sit unused except when tours are given to outspoken environmental activists. During a long lunch at the company hotel, executives toasted to each other’s health with numerous glasses of sake. They talked at length about the workings of the factory and the pollution, seemingly oblivious to the illness and death occurring downstream. This openness was clearly precipitated by their knowledge that as a state-owned business, as well as the top taxpayer and top employer in the area, they are untouchable. A mile away from the factory, steaming black water pours steadily into the river from a large metal pipe. Young children play near the banks of the river, and a noxious odor hangs in the air. While there are few stories of cancer in this village, there is a history of birth defects, infertility and skin ailments that began in the early 1990s. According to Daishan, this secret dumping site is one of many that Lianhua has, ensuring that it will be a long time before it has to answer any hard questions about what it does with its wastewater. And at the cancer ward, a man is carefully helped into a metal trailer lined with a canvas vegetable sack and attached to a motorbike. He has just finished his radiation therapy for the day, and his family presses close to him, draping blankets over his legs to make him comfortable for the long ride home. As he is slowly driven away he looks up at no one in particular, saying, “Too many diseases, too many diseases.” —  Stephen Voss

  Jia Jiale has lotion applied to her face by her grandmother to treat rashes that have recently appeared. She has lived in other villages and never had any health problems, but soon after she moved with her family to Sunying in Shenqiu County, she began developing itchy rashes all over her body. 

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A fisherman examines his net for fish after casting it into the polluted waters of a river in Shenqiu County. After an hour’s work, he had caught only 10 small bait fish that had blisters on their bodies. 

Stephen Voss

  Huo Daishan carries a slight smile on his face, almost beatific at times. The smile is the same whether he’s meeting with factory owners who dump their wastewater into the river or singing an old folk song about the Huai. Daishan was a former newspaper photographer before he converted his small apartment into the headquarters for the Guardians of the Huai River, a nonprofit group he formed to clean up the river and bring attention to the situation. He has become a tireless advocate for environmental reform. “It is the mess that gives me the energy,” says Daishan.  Stephen Voss


1,374 square miles of land turns to desert every year, an environmental crisis that affects 200 million people and threatens the lives of many more.

Irrigation systems synchronized with satellite weather data can save nearly 24 billion gallons a year in the United States.

  The Hadramaut Valley, one of the most productive agricultural areas in Yemen, is a neighbor to one of the hottest and driest places

on Earth, the Rub’ al Khali, or Empty Quarter. Temperatures rise to 131° F in the valley, which has an area the size of the Netherlands, Belgium and France combined. As a result, it remains under persistent threat of desertification. To meet irrigation demands and hold off the desert, water is being pulled out of the ground faster than it can be replenished, by a rate of almost 400 percent. 

 George Steinmetz

  Mohammed Ali Zein uses trucked-in water to nourish a lone Balanites Aegyptiaca tree in Yemen, making a stand against the advance of the desert. Global warming, overgrazing and poor irrigation threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, as increasingly large regions of the world become incapable of producing food. Desertification doesn’t just mean that there is more sand; it means that the land has become incapable of supporting life. 

Gerd Ludwig

  Drought is a farmer’s nightmare. In New South Wales, Australia, where drought has persisted for the last five years, sacrifice has become a way of life. Water restrictions limit consumption to 40 gallons per person per day, less than a quarter of normal usage levels. Sheep are sold by the herds at deflated prices by farmers who are unable to support them and desperately need money to pay off crushing debt. But most troubling is the staggering number of farmers turning to suicide — one every four days, according to the BBC.  120  Blue Planet Run

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 Everything about the Three Gorges Dam is

huge: Engineering feats, financial costs, social consequences and environmental impacts all loom large. When completed in 2009, it will be the largest hydroelectric dam ever built, nearly five times the size of the Hoover Dam, with an electrical capacity of up to 22.5 gigawatts. It will displace more than 1 million people from their home and will cost China about $25 billion.

Edward Burtynsky


Indian dam protesters and local homeowners stand prepared to drown themselves as waters rise from monsoon rains, flooding homes on the banks of the Narmada River in 1997. The government plans to build 30 large dams and thousands of smaller ones to provide water and electricity for the booming nation. But the Save the Narmada Movement, which has campaigned against the dams for 20 years, says the government is choosing to ignore the interests of thousands of poor people whose homes will be flooded in the state of Madhya Pradesh without proper compensation.  

Karen Robinson, Panos Pictures

An Issue on the Rise Woody Guthrie once sang an anthem to the Grand Coulee

dam, calling it “the greatest wonder in Uncle Sam’s fair land.” Half a century ago, great dams like the Grand Coulee and the Hoover Dam in the United States and the Aswan Dam on the Nile were symbols of a brave new world, bringing electricity to the rural poor and economic development to the world. Environmentalists praised them as a clean source of renewable power. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, called his country’s dams “the new temples of India, where I worship.” During the 20th century, 45,000 large dams were built in 140 countries. Today, virtually none of the world’s major rivers is without a dam. Many have been successes: Dams generate a fifth of the world’s electricity and irrigate a quarter of the world’s crops. Despite their contributions to humanity, many dams became mired in corruption, engineering failures, cost overruns and social conflicts even before they were finished. And, in operation, most have huge and unintended environmental consequences. Dams have flooded tens of millions of people from their land — 2 million from China’s Three Gorges Dam alone. They have inundated fertile river valleys, destroyed fisheries, dried up wetlands and caused the very floods and droughts that they were supposed to prevent. Many reservoirs are now gradually clogging with silt brought down from the hills.

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Although dams were built to capture and harness water, it turns out they also lose it — especially to evaporation. More water evaporates from the surface of Lake Nasser behind Egypt’s Aswan Dam than the people of Britain use in an entire year. A tenth of the flow of the Colorado River evaporates from the reservoir of Lake Powell. Other dams swarm with malarial mosquitoes, and in some locations rotting vegetation in reservoirs can emit as much greenhouse gas as a coalfired power station. Today the relative value of dams is subject to widespread debate around the world. Controversies range from environmental destruction to water scarcity, the effect on indigenous people, loss of biodiversity and inequality of water access between the poor and the rich. How the dam debate is resolved will affect the lives of millions of people in every corner of the globe. — fred pearce

  Chinese boat trackers pull a vessel upstream along a tributary of the Yangtze River, just as their ancestors have done for thousands of years. Starting in 2010, China plans to divert water from the Yangtze and other central rivers to Beijing and the arid northern plain. Opponents fear that the project, which includes three 700-mile channels, could dry up the river in 30 years. They say the $60 billion proposed cost doesn’t take into account the environmental toll or the 500,000 people who will need to find new homes.  126  Blue Planet Run

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The primary purpose of Iceland’s Karahnjukar Hydroelectric Project, meant to harness two of the nation’s great glacial rivers, is not water supply, but power supply. It is Iceland’s largest-ever construction project, and it will provide electricity to a new Alcoa aluminum smelter. The site has been a frequent target of environmentalists, as the area under construction is also is the second-largest unspoiled David Maisel wilderness in Europe. 

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  Yu Xiaogang founded the environmental group Green Watershed in 2002 as he worked to rebuild the area around Lashi Lake in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. A dam had destroyed the local ecosystem, putting both fishermen and farmers out of business. Today, Lashi Lake is a model of sustainable development, with a community fishery, women’s schools and micro-credit loan programs. Yu, who won a Goldman Environmental Prize, is fighting plans to build a dam at Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Yangtze River. It is one of more than a dozen dams he is helping locals oppose throughout Tom Dusenbery China. 

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Engineers are dwarfed by the turbines in one of the generators. When the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River is completed in 2009, the project will generate 22.5 gigawatts, making it the world’s most powerful hydroelectric station. That’s enough electricity to meet the needs of Shanghai’s 20 million people.  

  Reuters

  Syria, Iraq and Turkey almost went to war over control of the Euphrates River during the construction of the Keban Dam in southeastern

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between New York and Washington, D.C. It will displace more than 1 million people, submerging their homes and businesses beneath 262 cubic miles of reservoir water. Worldwide, dams have displaced an estimated 40 million to 80 million people. 

Turkey. It was the first of 22 dams proposed to expand agricultural production and double hydroelectic power capacity. The World Bank refused to fund the $32 billion project because of its potential impact on other countries dependent on the river. 

Upon completion, the Three Gorges Dam will span one mile wide and will flood a reservoir 230 miles back upstream, roughly the distance

Roberto Caccuri, contrasto

Fritz Hoffmann

  The dam at Grimsel Pass, high in the Swiss Alps, is a popular site for ecotourism. Switzerland is able to make great use of dams because of its mountainous geography and its ample supply of water. Overall, the developed world can store as many as 175,000 cubic feet of water per person, but in some nations that figure can sink as low as 7,000 cubic feet, as it does in India. 

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Arundhati Roy, center, walks with Medha Patkar during a protest against the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River in India. Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel “The God of Small Things,” is a leading anti-globalization activist. She has lent her support to India’s anti-dam movement, even donating her entire prize purse to Patkar’s organizations. “I suddenly realized,” Roy said, “I command the space to raise a dissenting voice, and if I don’t do it, it’s as political an act as doing it. …To stay quiet is as political an act as speaking out.” 

  Joerg Boethling, Peter Arnold, Inc.

  Medha Patkar is the founder of the Save Narmada Movement, and she is one of the most prominent civil-rights activists in modern India. In March 2006, she began what ultimately became a 20-day hunger strike against the construction of dams on the Narmada River, a fight that resulted in an emergency hospital stay and a case with the Supreme Court. News about her hunger strike became so popular that the government could not ignore it. A commission was established to hear claims from people displaced by the rising dam waters. The team found that the families were being urged to accept cash settlements, but no long-term arrangements were being made for their well-being. The Supreme Court eventually decided that construction could continue, but careful monitoring was needed to prevent further injustices.

  Joerg Boethling/Peter Arnold, Inc.

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In region after region around the globe, water — or put another way, control over

rapidly diminishing supplies of clean water — is at the heart of many of the world’s most raw geopolitical disputes, some of which have already rippled into dangerously destabilizing conflicts. Not surprisingly, among the hottest flashpoints is the Middle East, where water is at a premium and disagreements are in abundance. Virtually every political, social and military strategy undertaken by Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other nations in the area is driven by its impact on access to water. Consider the Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. Formerly southwest Syria, this rugged plateau is home to headwaters of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, two of Israel’s most essential sources of water. Despite Syria’s saber rattling and widespread international condemnation for its occupation of this territory, Israel refuses to retreat from the Golan Heights because it fears that Syria would divert the water supply, as had been threatened in the early 1960s. Similarly, the 2006 Lebanon-Israeli war was fought primarily in southern Lebanon, where tributaries of the Jordan River lie. Hezbollah has vowed to control the water resources for Lebanon, even if Israel has to do with less. Meanwhile, in a mirror image of these disputes, the Palestinian rejection of peace accords in the late 1990s grew in large part out of concern that these pacts ensured that Israel could determine how much water Palestinian areas receive. The Palestinians claim that Israel has capped their per capita water consumption at about 18 gallons of water per day, compared to about 92 gallons for the typical Israeli. It’s no wonder that soon after signing peace treaties with Israel, the late King Hussein of Jordan and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt pointedly noted that only a quarrel over water could bring them back to war with Israel. In large or small ways, similar brinksmanship occurs with disturbing regularity in regions already tense with enmity that has evolved over generations:  In Southern Africa, the waters of the Okavango River basin are pulled in four directions by Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, with hardly a cordial word spoken;  In the Indian-controlled territories of Kashmir, where headwaters of the Indus River basin reside, Pakistan has threatened to use nuclear weapons against India if any of its water supply is interrupted;   An armed guide walks on a cliff above the Nile River near Amarna, Egypt. The Nile flows through 10 countries in eastern Africa, but by force of a nearly 80-year-old treaty, Egypt commands most of its waters, a source of dispute and strained relations for decades. Upstream countries, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, have proposed dams on the river to aid their own development. But these plans have been condemned by Egypt as it anticipates its population doubling over the next 50 years.   134  Blue Planet Run

Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic, Getty Images


 In Sri Lanka, violent conflicts have broken out between government armies and a rebel group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who closed a provincial sluice gate in protest over government delays in improving the nation’s water system;  In Kenya, dozens were killed and thousands fled their homes when youths from the Maasai and Kikuyu tribal communities fought with machetes, spears, bows and arrows and clubs over water in the Rift Valley. The behavior is irrational, yet the motivation has an undeniable logic. Decades of poorly designed irrigation techniques, the construction of massive dams, toxic dumping, wetlands and forest destruction, industrial pollution, residential sprawl, lack of conservation and misuse have taken a dire toll on global water resources, and clean fresh water is becoming scarcer in every corner of the planet. The worst conditions are in places like Haiti, Gambia, Cambodia and Mali, where residents subsist on an average of less than 2 gallons of water per day — fewer than three large bottles of bottled water and well below the 13 gallons per day considered the amount of water needed to meet a minimum quality of life. With less and less water to go around, the idea that people would begin to fight over what’s left — and over who determines who gets what remains — is anything but outlandish. And while richer countries like the United States have been hiding water shortages with engineering sleights of hand, this strategy is now backfiring. Southeast Florida, southern California, Atlanta and parts of Texas are all likely to be dry within 20 years if their growth patterns and management of water aren’t sharply altered. In the United States, the water wars are more often waged in court. For example, after 30 years and no end to the amount of money being spent on attorney fees, three states in the southeast are still feuding over the Chattahoochee River. Rising north of Atlanta, the Chattahoochee is the sole water supply for the sprawling city’s metropolitan area as well as a source of downstream water for two neighbor states, Alabama and Florida. Providing water for Atlanta’s uncontrolled population boom — the city has grown from 2.2 million people in 1980 to 3.7 million people in 2000 — severely taxes the Chattahoochee. The city’s largest treatment plant tapped 3.8 billion gallons a year of the river’s water when it opened in 1991; now it pumps nearly 20 billion gallons annually. If, as expected, Atlanta’s population reaches 5 million by 2025, the Chattahoochee won’t be able to handle the load. But that isn’t slowing Atlanta down. Instead, the city is aggressively making plans to squeeze more water out of the Chattahoochee by building a dozen additional dams and reservoirs on the river. This, in turn, has raised the ire of Alabama and Florida, which claim that Georgia is

  Kibbutz Hatzerim gained a territorial foothold in Israel’s Negev Desert and kicked off a global revolution in agriculture when it partnered with water engineer Simcha Blass in 1965 to develop and mass-produce drip irrigation.

stealing the river for itself. Farmers in southern Georgia are siding with Alabama and Florida

Netafim, the kibbutz’s irrigation business, now controls a large portion of the

against Atlanta, as their irrigation allotment falls. Depending on the outcome of the many

drip market, with $400 million in sales last year. Manager Naty Barak checks the kibbutz drip lines, which feed corn, cotton and tomato crops in an area that receives less than 8 inches of rain annually.

Alexandra Boulat


Armed members of the rebel group MEND (Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta) have destroyed oil facilities and forced the closure of a significant percentage of the area’s oil operations. They have turned to violence to protest the pollution of their country’s waterways and alleged degradation of the natural environment by foreign multinational corporations. On May 1, 2007 MEND caused Chevron to shut down some oil production when it reportedly attacked the company’s Oloibiri floating production, storage and offloading vessel off southern Bayelsa state.    Michael Kamber

lawsuits and negotiations over water in the U.S. southeast, new residents of Atlanta may one day

more economical — and perhaps temper the water disputes — as the supply of water continues

soon turn on the tap to find it empty, southern Georgia farmlands could become permanently

to diminish and the price of water inexorably rises.

parched, or economic growth in Florida and Alabama could be significantly stunted.

Other solutions that could minimize the inevitable water wars require viewing water in a

While the global water crisis is growing ever more dangerous, there are nonetheless a few

different light — that is, as a shared resource that demands global cooperation to manage

potential winners — namely, those nations or individuals who have a surfeit of the precious

correctly. To that end, international funding agencies like the World Bank should use their

commodity or who develop new ways to produce and distribute it. With a population of only 30

financial leverage to direct that water development projects be initiated solely under regional

million and vast amounts of territory containing more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water,

umbrellas, jointly controlled by all of the nations in the area. And water mediation groups, such as

Canada stands to become the leader of an OPEC-like cartel as water takes its place next to oil

Green Cross International, founded by former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, should

as a depleted essential resource. To ship this water from Canada, as well as places like Russia,

be backed by a United Nations mandate to fulfill the charter of, as GCI describes it, “preventing

Greenland and the northern reaches of China, barges with massive liquid-holding bladders and

and resolving conflicts arising from environmental degradation.”

streamlined piping systems for bulk water transfers are already on the drawing boards, while new, less expensive and more efficient desalination techniques to make saltwater fresh are close to completion. All of these inventions and new ones beyond our imagination will become more and

None of this will be easy. Ultimately, conflict is less difficult than cooperation. But we really have no choice: The way we respond to the water crisis will determine whether we survive. –  Jeffrey Rothfeder


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There is less potable water per capita in the Gaza Strip than almost anywhere else on Earth. Gaza inhabitants must make do with less than 22 gallons per day, while the average American or Canadian uses almost four times as much. Palestinian parents send their children to gather bottles of drinking water from the nearest source: mini-desalination plants, such as this one in Khan Yunis. The small stations treat Gaza’s groundwater, which has grown increasingly polluted due to overpumping and contamination by sewage and pesticides. 

Alexandra Boulat

Holy Water In the resource-scarce Middle East, water is a constant source

of economic and political tension. In Israel and Palestinian territories the struggle over water involves not only economic and distribution issues but central political, legal and territorial claims as well. Water, essential to all parties, has emerged as a powerful bargaining chip and a politicized commodity. Since the beginning of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank in 1967, land adjoining the Lower Jordan River has been declared a “closed military zone.” Water needs of both Israelis and of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are rising, and current extraction levels are unsustainable. Access to clean and consistent sources of water is imperative to meet the present needs and future demands of both parties. Palestinians claim the Israeli policy of restricted water allocation has exacerbated health and nutrition problems and has adversely affected agricultural output and domestic, commercial and industrial development. The continuation of current extraction rates poses hydrological and ecological challenges for Israel and Palestinian territories. Current water use in Israel and in Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, coupled with the increasing Palestinian population, exceeds the replenishment rate. As a shared resource, water could actually provide the impetus for cooperation toward renewed peace negotiations. Because Israeli and Palestinian water needs are so interdependent, joint water management and cooperation have great potential to serve as a stepping-stone to bring both societies together. — Maher Bitar , The Foundation for Middle East Peace

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Water: The New Oil  143


The security fence around the West Bank has isolated many Palestinian villages from the wells they rely on for drinking and irrigation water. Israel controls 90 percent of the freshwater supply in the region, including the Jordan River and the large groundwater aquifer under the West Bank. Israel recognized Palestinians’ right to West Bank water in the 1995 Oslo Accords, but Palestinians say their use is limited to insufficient amounts or is altogether prohibited. Dieter Telemans, Panos Pictures

  For hundreds of years rural communities have been collecting rainwater where it falls: in the fields, in open tanks and in open wells. Now rainwater harvesting is commonplace in water-stressed cities as well. In Jerusalem, water tanks take their place among rooftop antennae. For many residents, these tanks are the only water source during the summer months when public service is frequently interrupted by shortages. Dieter Telemans, Panos Pictures

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Water: The New Oil  145


By 2025, two thirds of the world’s people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.

By 2025, two thirds of the world’s people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.

  A Palestinian bedouin complains about the sewage flowing into a stream running through the West Bank region of Salfeet from the settlement of Ariel. The herder claims the wells feeding this valley of olive trees have been contaminated and that the stream is no longer fit for his goats. 

Alexandra Boulat

  Giving 3-year-old Ibrahim a bath in Mawasi, Gaza Strip, is not a simple task for his mother, Naime Derbas. Piped water can be cut off for days due to electricity shortages throughout the Gaza Strip. Tap water is also highly saline, a result of seawater intrusion caused by the overpumping of its coastal aquifer. Here, Ibrahim’s bath is a mix of tap and potable water.  Alexandra Boulat

KYoto, japan Cum veraestrud ercilit aum ip eu facipis sectem exer irilla am delessectet

lum nulluptat, quat, con vent iustrud digna faccummy nit aliquam conullam, quisciduis et venim dit aliquis eugiam dolutpat nit commodiat ad tat utpat. Dui Unt etumsan henit inci blan henibh eu feuisim inci et praesenit lut loboreet ercin uuis dolobor tissed do 146  Blue Planet Run

Katya Able Water: The New Oil  147


Agriculture uses 70 percent of all fresh water — three times as much as industry and seven times as much as residential.

There are more than 3,800 multilateral declarations on water: 286 are treaties, referring to more than 200 international river basins.

  Workers in the Indian state of Maharashtra bring in the cotton crop. Worldwide, cotton growing is a $12 billion industry. Its current production of 20 million tons is expected to more than double by 2050. Cotton requires arid growing climates and enormous amounts of water — up to 1 million gallons for every acre or 2,000 gallons for every cotton T-shirt.  

Johann Rousselot, Oeil Public

  A young girl harvests cotton in the Harran Plain near Sanliurfa in

Turkey. The Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River stores enough water to allow farmers to irrigate the water-intensive crop in this desert landscape. Cotton farming in the region is subsidized by a $32 billion project that will eventually result in 22 dams and 19 electrical power stations on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Aggressive river development in Turkey has led to protests from Syria and Iraq, which also rely on the rivers as primary water sources. 

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Dieter Telemans, Panos Pictures

Water: The New Oil  149


  Residents of a New Delhi slum wrestle for control of a water hose from a government water tanker truck. Across India, water networks are in such disrepair that cities cannot provide water from a public tap for more than a few hours a day. Even worse, although most of the 1 billion people worldwide without access to safe drinking water live in rural areas, urban populations of the developing world are expected to double by 2030, as 60 million people move into cities every year. 

Ruth Fremson, The New York Times, Redux


Chen Wenming, his wife, Yang Meitang, and their son,   Fernando and Gladys Vega stand behind a collection

Qingyang, are taking advantage of China’s bottled water boom. They

of their kitchen water containers with their children Katy, Alex and

started their own water business, making deliveries by scooter, after

Andres in their Quito, Ecuador home. The Vegas use up to 180

moving from the countryside to Shanghai eight years ago. Bottled

gallons of water daily, well below the national average of 100 gallons

water consumption in China has more than doubled in recent years

per person. The middle-class family conserves water to save money,

because people only limit tap water use for cooking and bathing. The

showering every other day, using the washing machine twice a week

family sells five-gallon jugs — enough for a family of three for about

and watering the garden only on the weekends.

Ivan Kashinsky

two weeks. 

Mads Nissen

  Jurgen Wernick and Catherina Bosch live in an   Abdala Suliman’s family gathers outside their home in

ecovillage in Currumbin Valley in Queensland, Australia. Because

Kafr ad Dik in the West Bank: 92-year-old Issam Amin, and Amin,

their house has no piped water supply, they rely on about 7,000

Mohamed, Ouar and Maen. Every day, for $2, they buy 250 gallons

gallons of rainwater that runs off their roof into tanks every year.

of water from an Israeli-owned well 3 miles from their village. More

The retired couple uses about 30 gallons a day, which would leave

than 10,000 of their fellow villagers also depend on the same supply,

them dry during the year — especially during Australia’s frequent

which leads to a daily scramble. Once the Israeli well owners have

droughts — if they didn’t also recycle water for use in washing their

sold 75,000 gallons, they close up shop for the day. 

clothes, watering the garden and filling the toilets.

Alexandra Boulat

Michael Amendolia

  Afghanistan was already a nation in trouble before the   Tim and Alissandra Sweep and their children David,

United States started bombing in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The

Kara, Erin and Jonathon use around 450 gallons per day in their

country was suffering its worst drought in 30 years, and the Taliban

Henderson, Nevada home, about average for a U.S. household.

had disbanded many women-led hygiene education programs.

Three bathrooms and daily showers give them a level of sanitation

Kabul’s 3.4 million residents have no public sewage system and piped

unknown to half the world. They also have a backyard pool that uses

city water reaches only 18 percent of the people. Mile-long walks to

about 25,000 gallons, enough water to supply a person with the

fetch drinking water are common. Here family members gather on a

U.N. minimum daily water requirement for 12 years. 

rooftop to socialize and share what supplies they have.

Tiffany Brown 152  Blue Planet Run

Fardin Waezi Water: The New Oil  153


Conservation worker Marco Negovschi takes a break at a Baker, Nevada cafe. Residents are fighting attempts by the city of Las Vegas to build a pipeline for its booming population, which is expected to outgrow the supplies of the Colorado River water by 2013. Local farmers and ranchers worry that the pipeline would leave no water for them. 

Tiffany Brown

Water and Wealth Farmers have irrigated the fields around Presidio, Texas, on the

banks of the Rio Grande River, for more than 400 years. But not much longer. Presidio’s farmers are deserting their fields as the Rio Grande, one of North America’s greatest rivers, has gone dry in this part of Texas as upstream farmers drain off water for their own cotton, corn and alfalfa fields. The Rio Grande is now essentially two rivers, divided by 200 miles of dry riverbed. It has been said that the real history of the West is the story of who controls the water, from the Colorado to the Columbia, the Missouri to the Sacramento. Today, populations continue to surge, fresh water becomes scarcer, and control is lost in a morass of competing interests among federal and local agencies, farmers, fishermen, Native American tribes and environmental groups. There are reasons for optimism. Total U.S. water consumption was lower in 2000 than it was in 1980, despite the addition of 55 million new citizens. Per capita water consumption was lower in 2000 than it was a half-century before. But in the West, even that isn’t enough. Here, any solution must also deal with the ownership and distribution of water. Clever entrepreneurs are buying up vast tracts of the West for their water “capital.” Will they bring greater efficiency to the distribution of the region’s limited supply of fresh water — or just become the latest players in the endless power struggle? One thing is certain: The long, tragic history of water and wealth in the American West has yet to see its final chapter. — Michael Malone

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In Nebraska, workers are on the bus by 5 a.m., heading for their jobs in the cornfields. Farming near the Platte River, the site of America’s largest aquifer, involves many laborers and large amounts of irrigation, putting agricultural water needs in competition with wildlife and recreational uses. Since the mid-1940s, water has been taken from the aquifer three times faster than the rate of recharge, sinking the water table by as much as 5 feet per year in places. 

Brian Lehmann

  Six years ago Hal Holder and two dozen other farmers in Rocky Ford, Colorado, sold their water rights to Aurora, a fast-growing Denver suburb, kicking off a controversy that hasn’t quieted. Through a program funded by Aurora, Holder is restoring his property to natural grassland. Instead of farming onions, Holder now runs a few head of cattle and offers hunting for quail and pheasant on his property. Other farmers in the area believe the move to sell and ship water was shortsighted and will ultimately hurt the region. 

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Sergio Ballivian

Water: The New Oil  157


  Without enough water to satisfy the needs of recreational, agricultural and industrial users, legal battles will frame the future of water use in the United States. Here, attorney Thomas Oliver argues for Spear T Ranch in the Nebraska Supreme Court. The case, which was originally filed in 2002 by the ranch near Bridgeport, accuses groundwater irrigators of depleting area streams. 

Brian Lehmann


Walter and Marie Killidrew, who own a ranch near T. Boone Pickens’s Texas property, are not interested in selling their water rights to him. They are concerned his plan to pump underground water and sell it to users in other parts of the state would dry up their ranch. 

Ilkka Uimonen, Magnum

  Oil tycoon turned water baron, T. Boone Pickens is making water a hot commodity. He has bought 200,000 acres in Roberts County, Texas, with the idea of selling the water that lies beneath it. The payoff could be huge: His $75 million investment in land could bring a $1 billion return when he sells the water for $1,000 an acre-foot or more to Texas towns.  Fred Prouser, Reuters, Corbis

  If T. Boone Pickens has his way, water will become a cash crop. He is trying to secure the water rights of properties near his ranch and then sell as many as 65 billion gallons a year to thirsty Texas cities. 

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Ilkka Uimonen, Magnum

Water: The New Oil  161


By some estimates, more than 50 percent of commercial and residential irrigation water use goes to waste due to evaporation, runoff or overwatering.

Landscaping with native plants adapted to the local climate can reduce outdoor water use by up to seven times and can cost 50 percent less to maintain.

  A landscaper at the Red Rock Country Club in Las Vegas removes sod in favor of native desert landscaping. With a booming population and tight water supplies, Las Vegas is squeezing water savings from all sectors, recouping 20 billion gallons per year through recycling and rebate programs. Some of the biggest gains come through tearing out turf on the links. According to WorldWatch Institute, golf courses consume 2.5 billion gallons of water worldwide every day, enough to support 500 million people at the U.N.’s five-gallon daily minimum. 

Jim Wilson, The New York Times, Redux

  Joseph Cooper is replacing his small backyard lawn with artificial turf, and he’s getting paid for doing it. Since 1999, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has offered $2 per square foot to customers to replace their lawns with water-efficient landscaping. Seventy-six million square feet of grass have been removed, saving 5 billion gallons of water per year. 

Tiffany Brown

  Family members water the grave of Martin Rodriguez, who died of cancer in March 2007 at the age of 42. Families at Mount Carmel Cemetery in El Paso, Texas are able to keep up landscaping thanks to a municipal water recycling program. “Graywater” is also used to irrigate parks, schools, roadside medians and industrial plants. The efforts help the county’s utility cut its annual withdrawals from underground aquifers and the nearby Rio Grande by 1 billion gallons.  Samantha Appleton 162  Blue Planet Run

Water: The New Oil  163


As Florida booms, developments continue their steady march on the Everglades. Here, airboaters run alongside cars on Interstate 595 in West Broward. Florida’s population increased 13 percent from 2000 to 2006, making it the thirdfastest growing state in the nation. On average, more than 900 people move into the state every day. 

Andrew Kaufmann

Poisoning Paradise The Florida Everglades are America’s youngest natural wonder.

Born just 5,000 years ago — a blink in geologic time — the nation’s largest swamp is in fact a vast, slow-moving, 50-mile-wide freshwater river that defines the environment of the entire Florida peninsula. It is also the home to more than 300 species of animals, including birds, foxes, bears and panthers, many of which are unique to the region. Despite being opened to settlers beginning with the federal Swamp Act of 1850, the vast and forbidding Everglades resisted development until the early 20th century, a half-century after the rest of the state had begun to experience explosive growth. Only then was it determined that the Everglades must be tamed, that the great river needed to be harnessed along its path to the sea to provide water to farms and protect against floods.

  Severe drought conditions in Everglades National Park have forced alligators like this 8-footer to seek one of the last remaining puddles of water. Much of the fresh water that was naturally purified by the Everglades now flows directly into the sea, threatening America’s largest coral reef. 

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Tim Chapman, Liaison, Getty Images

Water: The New Oil  165


In response, in what was considered at the time to be one of the great civil engineering projects of the era, the State of Florida and the Army Corps of Engineers built dams, levees and channels throughout the region — ultimately shunting 1.7 billion gallons of fresh water from the Everglades south to the ocean each day. The results, as we can only appreciate now, have been devastating. Draining the Everglades has resulted in catastrophe for the wetlands and its animal and plant life. The channeled water, once pure, has become a dumping ground for fertilizers and pollutants as it makes its way to the coastal waterway — and once there has begun to kill an

  As Florida booms, developments continue their steady march on the

equally fragile natural wonder: the Florida Coral Reef.

Everglades. Here, airboaters run alongside cars on Interstate 595 in West Broward. Florida’s population increased 13 percent from 2000 to 2006, making it the thirdfastest growing state in the nation. On average, more than 900 people move into the state every day. 

today regularly suffers from a shortage of fresh water for irrigation and

Andrew Kaufmann

  Efforts to restore the Everglades are documented in “Water’s Journey,” a film that follows the path of water from Orlando to the Florida Keys. In the course of filming the documentary, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve park biologist Mike Owen, systems biologist Tom Morris and executive producer, director and cinematographer Wes Skiles look for a rare Ghost Orchid in the southern part of the Everglades.

Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that fast-growing southern Florida

Jill Heinerth

drinking — even as those billions of gallons of once-pure water flow past. Only recently has the region begun to awaken to the magnitude of this natural disaster. And the only cure appears to be for the Corps of Engineers to go back and undo almost everything it has done, freeing the Everglades to cleanse itself, refill the great aquifer that lies beneath it, and once again find its own equilibrium. But, as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan underscores, tearing down all of those dams and leveling every levee will be a Herculean task, one requiring billions of dollars in federal and state monies. And so far it remains just a plan: Little funding yet to be set aside for the work. Saving the Everglades is perhaps the greatest freshwater challenge facing the United States. So far, we are failing the test. —  Michael Malone

  Former florida Governor Jeb Bush announces a plan to restore Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in the heart of the Everglades. But the Sierra Club questions the governor’s environmental record: “In 2003, the sugar industry successfully petitioned Bush to pass a new law amending the Everglades Forever Act. This anti-Everglades amendment delayed the cleanup of sugar’s phosphorous pollution by 10 years. Despite massive protests by environmental groups and newspaper editorials of protest, Governor Bush signed the bill into law.”  166  Blue Planet Run

  Jill Heinerth Water: The New Oil  167


Children play on an abandoned water storage tank in Vuma Village in South Africa. Nowadays the village has free access to clean water via an innovative PlayPump system that uses the rotation of a merry-go-round to extract underground water. 

Here is the shocker: We already know how to purify water. We don’t yet know how to cure cancer,

and we don’t yet know how to create a vaccine for HIV/AIDS. But we absolutely do know how to purify water. The question then is: If we know how to purify water, why are more than 1 billion people around our planet suffering from the lack of clean water? I believe it is a failure of imagination. In particular, we have become so enamored with Big Solutions that we have almost forgotten the power of small ones. Despite having the tools at hand, we are currently losing the battle for universal fresh drinking water — and the world knows it. Thanks to television, the Internet and most of all, cell phones, even the poorest people now know their condition differs from that of others, they know what advances are possible, and they will not be patient for change. Even the hardest heart must appreciate that a billion sick, thirsty, desperate people are the most fertile ground imaginable for war, epidemics, mass refugee migrations and terror. Their thirst is ours. Their problem is ours. The developing world is littered with press releases and grandiose statements heralding top-heavy one-size-fits-all water projects that came and went, at great expense, while providing little benefit to the people who most need clean water. In some cases, these projects required parts or supplies that were not readily available. Others required skills that were not available locally. In still other cases, the projects required ongoing financial incentives for their operators that, again, were not available. The second half of the 20th century launched countless huge development projects aimed at solving the planet’s problems on a grand scale, including the lack of water for millions of people. Many failed outright; others were delayed or mismanaged and were magnets for corruption. These development efforts lost the voice, the impetus and the reason of the individual. Many people around the world are beginning to realize that different problems require different solutions. One great advantage of small-scale projects is that they can be tailored to address specific situations. People do not want solutions that merely keep them alive; they want solutions that make their lives, and the lives of their children, better. Many solutions will have to be effective against a wide range of contaminants, including dangerous industrial compounds, beyond just the usual problems of sewage and salt. And safe water will only make a difference if it is affordable. The sad fact is that the poor often pay far more than the rich do for water. This is not only unfortunate and unfair, but also dangerously unhealthy. People use less water when it is more expensive, and when people use less water, their health suffers. And these are the same people who cannot afford medical care.

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Samantha Reinders


The El Paso, Texas, water utility gives customers a $50

I’ll say it again: We already know how to purify water. We’ve known how for millennia — Sanskrit writings from 2000

rebate when they get rid of their old, water-hogging toilets. New models

B.C. record the following advice: “Impure water should be purified by being boiled over a fire, or being heated in the sun,

can save up to 5 gallons per flush. Through incentives, water recycling and

or by dipping a heated iron into it, or it may be purified by filtration through sand and coarse gravel and then allowed to cool.”  Add a few technological wrinkles, and that’s essentially what we still do today.

strict conservation ordinances, El Paso residents have reduced their average personal daily usage by 60 percent, from 230 gallons to 136 gallons. Samantha Appleton

In recent years, we have seen the rise of a new generation of enterprises, commercial and social, led by extraordinary individuals who have found real solutions to seemingly intractable global problems. Bankers such as Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus are fighting extreme poverty by providing loans to people with no credit. Economists such as “The Mystery of Capital” author Hernando de Soto are working with governments to provide even the poorest individuals with formal titles to their land. And businesspeople such as GrameenPhone founder Iqbal Quadir are providing small entrepreneurs with productivity tools (in his case, cell phones) that allow individuals to serve their communities while making attractive profits. The success of these pioneers is infectious. Individuals around the world are becoming increasingly aware that they can make a difference. There will always be a place for Big Solutions, but they should only be the last resort, when they can prove a greater chance of success than smaller, more adaptive strategies. Real success only comes with real risk — and real risk means the ever-present possibility of failure. We desperately need to try dramatically new approaches to the challenge of safe water — and many of those approaches will fail. But if we are determined (and lucky), a few of these new solutions will work. This is what inventors and entrepreneurs do. They accept failure as part of the process, they learn from their mistakes, and they keep trying until they find a solution. What will the solution to making the world’s water safe again look like? I have my own ideas, but I am just one inventor among what should be millions. My hunch is that the answer (or answers) will not be the expected one, or come from even the expected source. It may not be a sophisticated device emerging from a well-equipped lab in the developed world, but an astonishingly elegant solution discovered by some new, young entrepreneur or scientist in Rio, Dharavi or Kibera. Or, it may come from you. Freed to think small, to make mistakes and to take real risks, we will find the solution to the challenge of safe water. Of that I am certain.  — Dean Kamen


The New York-based Acumen Fund, headed by Jacqueline Novogratz, is helping farmers lift themselves out of poverty by providing funding to IDE-India. IDE, or International Development Enterprises, recruits machine shops to manufacture low-cost drip irrigation systems. Indian farmers have bought 200,000 of the systems and report that their annual return on investment ranges from 40 percent to 64 percent. The KB-Drip system kits are sold through a network of village dealers for $1.30 a pound, of which 36 cents is the seller’s markup. This for-profit approach is transforming the lives of farmers in rural areas throughout the developing world.  Atul Loke


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The energy generated by the children playing on this merry-go-round in the village of Vuma, South Africa, pumps water from an underground borehole up to a storage tank. Billboards on the tank carry public-service messages on two sides; the other two have advertisements that help pay for maintenance of the PlayPump system. Besides being fun — and a source of healthy exercise — the kids are proud to be providing a valuable community service. 

Samantha Reinders

Distilling Laughter In Africa, water for basic drinking needs is often available beneath people’s feet; they just aren’t able to reach it.

Instead, every year women and childen spend more than 40 billion hours (yes, billion) walking great distances to

fetch water, devoting much of their days to this arduous

and time-wasting daily ritual. To address this tragic waste

of human potential, teams of entreprenuers and global aid groups have been focusing on human-powered pumps to transform a labor-intensive chore into child’s play.

Two innovative approaches recently won funding from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace Awards.

PlayPump International’s water pump started a decade ago in South Africa and is already in more than 700 villages. The pump is powered by the energy of children as they

play on a merry-go-round. As they spin, water is drawn

from below ground into a nearby storage tank. The Case Foundation, headed by Steve and Jean Case, is leading a

global campaign to provide PlayPumps to 4000 villages by 2010, which will provide clean water to 10 million people.

One of the most striking aspects of the PlayPump concept is that it was created in Africa by Africans for Africans.

The second device getting worldwide attention is The

Elephant Pump, a modern adaption to an ancient Chinese

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A Billion Slingshots  177


By 2025, two thirds of the world’s people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.

  Before the

By 2025, two thirds of the world’s people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.

PlayPump was installed in Vuma Village, women and

children had to walk long distances to get the water they needed for the day, spending hours lugging heavy buckets on their heads. Because of the weight and frequent injuries, only water for essential purposes was fetched; water for gardening was out of the question. Today the pump system enables the community to irrigate and maintain a small vegetable garden. Here Violet Baloyi tends to her marog, a type of spinach. 

Samantha Reinders

water-raising device. The Elephant Pump draws water

through a pipe using plastic washers attached to a rope. Again, eager children do most of the work by peddling

a stationary bicycle. Pump Aid, the British organization

behind the devive, has installed thousands of the pumps, mostly in Zimbabwe. The pump costs a fraction of traditional piston-powered pumps thanks to the cooperation of local manufacturers.

  Even when it’s dry and dusty in Vuma Village, the PlayPump brings water up from underground, and there’s plenty to go around. The whole operation takes only a few hours to install and costs around $14,000. The idea has proved so inventive, so cost-efficient and so much fun for the kids that the World Bank honored it as one of its best new grassroots ideas. 

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Samantha Reinders

A Billion Slingshots  179


According to U.N. estimates, 443 million school days are lost to waterborne diseases each year.

The number of girls attending school rises 15 percent in the developing world when adequate sanitation is available.

  Children in developing countries often are afraid of using

rudimentary toilets like outhouses because the facilities are dark and smelly and because the youngsters fear falling into the hole. At Saint Joseph School in Tholurpatti village in India, approximately 235 children up to the age of 6 use child-friendly toilets while enjoying colorful drawings on the walls and a sense of cleanliness. At first, mothers went with their children and taught them the basic ideas of toilet use and hygiene (including washing hands with soap). WaterAid provided the funding for these toilets.

Tomas Munita

 Less than half of Asia’s population has access to adequate sanitation, by far the lowest

percentage in the world. In rural areas only 1 in 3 have access. Here children at the Kasichetty Municipal Middle School in Tiruchirappalli, India, learn the importance of hygiene in preventing illness. Simple lessons in hand washing and the installation of public toilets are transforming the lives of India’s rural children. 

Tomas Munita

  Children get their own area to use in community toilets that are nicknamed “television toilets” because some of them do, in fact, have TVs in them. The privately run centers have become tourist attractions in places like Cheetah Camp, one of Mumbai’s biggest slums. A World Bank loan gets the project started, but locals decide how big the toilet will be and what amenities it will have. Three hundred toilets have been built where there previously had been open defecation, and people are getting used to living without the stink.  180  Blue Planet Run

Atul Loke

A Billion Slingshots  181


Water-related diseases caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation are responsible for 80 percent of all sickness in the developing world.

Access to clean water gives sub-Saharan Africa's 25 million HIV/AIDS patients a fighting chance to extend their life expectancy.

  Two boys in southern Sudan use straw-shaped guinea worm

filters supplied by the Carter Center to protect themselves from the larvae responsible for guinea worm disease. This parasitic disease is painful and debilitating, and its effects reach far beyond a single victim, crippling agricultural production and reducing school attendance. The Carter Center has distributed millions of these straws in recent years, reducing infestations by 70 percent. 

Michael Freeman, Aurora Photos

 Procter & Gamble’s water purification product, PUR, filters water of debris, viruses,

bacteria, protozoa and arsenic. Sold in individual sachets, PUR costs around 10 cents to treat the drinking water for a family of five for one day and reduces the incidence of diarrhea in young children by around 50 percent. 

Stephen Digges

  There are a thousand people living in Guanyinjiao Village in Wenzhou City, China,

and until the summer of 2007 they only had one source of water: a local reservoir that delivered untreated water. Many of the families had come to distrust that water, however, and they blamed it for an increasing number of illnesses. The Dow Chemical Company has donated a water treatment center that is capable of removing a variety of contaminants. It uses membrane technology, a system that allows pure water to pass through strands of polymer fibers but traps pollutants. Jianxue Shi 182  Blue Planet Run

A Billion Slingshots  183


On average, 33 percent of Florida's wastewater injection facilities leak into the state's aquifer.

To reduce the impact of residential water use, new installation of low-flow toilets, showerheads and faucets became federal law in the United States in 1992.

  Roy Barghout (right) is a research supervisor at Caroma, an Australian company developing improved low-flow toilets. Caroma’s toilets use only three-quarters of a gallon of water to flush, compared to standard low-flow toilets that use more than a gallon and a half. 

Michael Amendolia

  On mountains an hour or so outside Mexico City, Imelda Carreon Valdozino looks at the water flowing past her on the sides of the dormant volcano in the Tlalmanalco region and wonders what she will find today. Several times a month, this "Guardian of the Volcanoes" takes a group of students with her as she tests the water for the presence of toxins. Urbanization has brought more people and more industry to the area, intensifying the demand for clean water. Still, there are few treatment facilities in the region, and wastewater runoff is returned to rivers and streams untreated. Then, it sinks through the permeable volcanic soil and threatens to spoil the aquifer beneath Mexico City. The "Guardians" measure pollution and confront the polluters in an effort to safeguard the rivers and streams. 

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Janet Jarman

A Billion Slingshots  185


By 2025, two thirds of the world’s people are likely to be living in areas of acute water stress.

Brand Aid Thirty-eight-year-old creative director David Droga of Australia has spent his career creating advertising campaigns for the world’s top brands. But ask him about the campaign he takes the most pride in these days, and he’ll point to the Tap Project, created to help UNICEF provide clean drinking water to children. The Tap Project was sparked when Esquire magazine editors challenged Droga to create a brand out of nothing that could also be “a positive change agent.” Inspiration struck when Droga received a complimentary glass of tap water at a restaurant. He gave his team at his company the task of creating a brand for something that is distributed everywhere but that no one owns, something that would cost nothing to produce or package, and something that could generate a lot of money for UNICEF at almost no cost to the donors. The campaign’s initial target was the citizens of Manhattan. All New Yorkers had to do was add a dollar to their dinner checks. One dollar. Enough to provide clean, safe water for 40 children for a day. Three hundred of New York’s finest restaurants signed on, and the city’s most prominent magazines published Tap essays by top authors. Students created and hung Tap posters around the city. Dozens of public figures, including actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, became Tap representatives. All of New York embraced the project. Suddenly tap water became a brand. Millions of dollars were generated for UNICEF at zero cost. UNICEF plans to roll out the Tap Project in more than 30 cities in North America on World Water Day in 2008. In 2009 TAP will launch in more than 100 cities around the world. “This single idea will literally save millions of children’s lives,” says UNICEF’s Steve Miller.

Rick Smolan

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Women and girls in the developing world often spend the majority of their day collecting water and carrying containers weighing up to 45 pounds almost 4 miles.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people gained access to clean water over the last decade.

  Alice Malemela, 15, of Mothapo Village in South Africa pulls a Q Drum on her way to the community water tap. The innovative plastic drum serves as a rolling water bucket and stores up to 20 gallons when full. 

Samantha Reinders

  South African architect Piet Hendrikse has put his civil engineering career on hold to begin another in social entrepreneurship. With the help of his brother Hans, he designed and self-funded the Q Drum water-fetching container. Now, he hopes to find a material that will make it both durable and affordable. Although the design has been highly regarded, and the social benefits are clear, the Q Drum's current $30 production cost prevents the product from being used more widely. "Our initial marketing drive was [targeted] to aid organizations, but we have come to the realization that if the distribution of our product is exclusively dependent on charity, the project will not be sustainable." Hendrikse remains optimistic that successful field testing will inspire international funding to overcome manufacturing limitations and make it affordable to the people of rural Africa who need it most. Samantha Reinders

A Billion Slingshots  189


FogQuest, a nonprofit Canadian charity, is dedicated to installing water projects serving rural communities in developing countries. Fog collectors make use of natural atmospheric sources of water: As fog blows through the nets, it condenses and is channeled into reservoirs, providing villages with free water. Here a team installs fog catchers in Nepal. 

Tony Makepeace

Out of Thick Air Some parts of the developing world receive as little as .04 inches of rainfall per year. In such places, there are no rivers or lakes, people cannot collect enough rainwater to drink, and long-distance transport of water is prohibitively expensive. Building on a technology developed in the coastal desert of Chile by a team of Chileans and Canadians, the fog catcher system is ideally situated for arid or seasonally arid locations where conventional water supplies are not available. Fog catchers utilize dense fog — low-hanging clouds — to produce large amounts of water for rural inhabitants in the most arid parts of our planet. The perfect environment for a fog catcher installation is at high elevations where the fog is driven by wind moving over hills. The fog collectors are made of inexpensive, durable plastic mesh, with fibers woven to maximize passive fog drop interception and to allow for rapid drainage of the collected water. Because the mesh can be supported by local material such as wood, the cost of the collector is low and little maintenance is required. The light, compact nature of the mesh makes it easy to ship and carry, thus facilitating the placement of collectors in poor and isolated communities. Through these collector systems, clean water is provided to remote communities that lack rivers, lakes and springs and the financial wherewithal to purchase water elsewhere. FogQuest, a Canadian nonprofit organization that installs fog catchers around the world, says that in its first year of operation in the Chilean village of Chungungo, the system provided between 4,000 and 26,000 gallons of water a day. The village no longer had to import water by truck and had enough to begin growing gardens and fruit trees.

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A Billion Slingshots  191


When clouds touch the Earth in the form of fog, material stretched across hillsides captures the moisture, providing a natural source of fresh, clean water.

Tony Makepeace

  Various fabric configurations are tested to see which collect water most effectively. Manufacturers use the science of biomimicry to design nets resembling naturally occurring patterns. For instance, a British firm is manufacturing a model inspired by a Namibian beetle that can capture 10 times more water than any previous version.  

Tony Makepeace 

  Fogquest reports that in its first year of operation, the system provided between 4,000 and 26,000 gallons of water a day in some villages. Villagers no longer had to import water by truck and had enough to begin growing gardens and fruit trees.  Tony Makepeace

A Billion Slingshots  193


A quarter of the world's glaciers, which provide drinking water to more than 1 billion people, could be gone by 2050 due to global warming.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made donation commitments of $60 million for water projects in 2006.

  Glaciers that provide Europe with drinking water (and ski slopes) have lost more

than half their volume in the last century. Workers at the Pitztal Glacier ski resort in Austria are doing something to slow the melting. On a sunny day, they attach a fleece-like blanket to the top of the slope, push it over the lip and roll it down over the glacier’s flank. The synthetic material protects the snow from the sun’s rays and helps slow the melting in summer months. Melissa Farlow

 At 11,000 feet on Austria’s Pitztal Glacier, 15 acres of cutting-edge insulation is draped onto

sheer slopes — at a cost of $85,000 — to keep them from melting. Glaciers in the Alps are losing 1 percent of their mass every year and may disappear by the end of the century. Less ice and snow cover means less runoff to feed Europe’s major rivers and a loss to the region’s ecosystem as well as to its economy. Glacier wrapping is now being tried in Germany and Switzerland. Melissa Farlow

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Cities around the world, from Shanghai to Mexico City, are sinking by as much as 30 feet as a result of the overpumping of the aquifers beneath them.

Micro-loans from the Nobel Prize-winning Grameen Bank in Bangladesh have helped well over half of its recipients gain access to safe drinking water.

  Manimala, a researcher with an Indian health and sanitation organization called Gramalaya, collects data in the village of Mettupatti, noting the number of people and the location of toilets, wells and water taps. The information will be used to help determine where new sanitation facilities will be built. Many people in India’s rural villages must use open defecation troughs, which contribute to the spread of disease. Tomas Munita

  Children try out the new tap that dispenses water from a PlayPump in Pudhupalli, replacing the old hand pump right next to it. Pudhupalli is the first rural village in India to remove all open sewers. 

Tomas Munita

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In Brazil, 113,000 cisterns have already been installed to collect rainwater for almost 700,000 people, part of a larger effort to install 1 million.

 Laxman Singh has dedicated his life to reviving traditional rainwater

harvesting systems in parched villages in western India. Under Laxman's leadership, villagers have built new reservoirs and irrigated their fields. The results of this work are everywhere. In the village of Laporiya, harvests of wheat, lentils and vegetables have tripled, and the water table has risen by 45 feet. 

Janet Jarman

 Women tap water from a central well in Laporiya, a

remote village in the drought-prone state of Rajasthan, India. Since 1991, levels in the wells have risen from 60 feet below ground to just 15 feet. The gains have come thanks to the revival of traditional rainwater capture techniques: Villagers have rebuilt collection ponds, repaired masonry storage tanks and created earthen percolation reservoirs that help recharge groundwater. Laporiya has been recognized as the only village in the district that did not require aid in the form of water tankers. 

Janet Jarman

A Billion Slingshots  199


Global freshwater consumption rose sixfold in the 20th century, more than twice the rate of population growth.

715 trillion gallons of gray water are now reclaimed and reused in industry and irrigation around the world every year.

  At an estimated cost of $35 billion, Libya is building one of the most extensive water systems in the history of the world. The project is expected to carry water from the vast aquifiers under the Sahara to the Mediterranean coastal region, where 90 percent of the population lives. Libya is already mining 35 billion cubic feet of water annually and will reap 1,400 billion cubic feet each year — which scientists worry could empty the aquifers in as little as 40 years. Libyan head of state Moammar Gadhafi calls the project the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Reza, Webistan

  A worker checks the water gauge at the Tuas Seawater Desalination Plant in Singapore. Using reverse-osmosis advanced filter technology, the plant treats approximately 30 million gallons of water per day, about 10 percent of Singapore's daily consumption. The largest of its kind in Asia, the plant was constructed in 2005 to reduce Singapore's dependence on imported water from Malaysia.

Roslan Rahman, AFP, Getty Images

Dwindling freshwater resources threaten the key ingredient in Coca Cola’s

business, so water conservation has become key to the company’s bottom line. Coke has built high-tech bottling facilities like this one in Denver. As bottles and cans pass through the system above, they’re rinsed by air, not water. While conventional bottling facilities use nearly 3 liters of water for every liter of soda, plants like this one can cut water waste in half. Joanna B. Pinneo 200  Blue Planet Run

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A new water prize to encourage entrepreneurs to focus on the

global water crisis is being created by Andrew Benedek (right), founder of Zenon Membrane Solutions, who invented a membrane filtration system considered to be one of the biggest breakthroughs in water treatment since the development of sand filtration and chlorine disinfection a century ago; and Monique Barbut, CEO of the Global Environment Facility, director of a $3 billion fund helping poor countries deal with climate change. In June 2007 they met in Paris to solicit support from Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of Suez Environment, who heads the world's largest private water company. Gerard Uferas

  Tigist Tadesse has a dream of providing tap water and sanitation to everyone in her village of Ginchi, Ethiopia. In addition to her responsibilities as a shopkeeper and mother of three, Tigist researches and publicizes water-related statistics about her village. Her efforts have led to the construction of 20 community toilets and more than 100 taps around her neighborhood since 2005. 

Guy Calaf

  ASHOKA FELLOW Marta Echavarria has established water markets that assign price tags to the environmental benefits of healthy watersheds. This measurable value allows all parties — farmers, environmentalists, water companies, electric companies and governments — to better understand the value of water. Marta’s multi-tiered strategy establishes private funds for watershed management and coordinates watershed conservation plans between upstream and downstream users. Piloted in Colombia, Marta’s model continues to spread and have success in communities throughout Latin America. 

Ivan Kashinsky A Billion Slingshots  203


In the world's poorest communities, people spend 5 to 10 times more for water than those in the developed, a sum that can represent more than 20% of their incomes.

Small-scale water technologies such as drip irrigation and treadle pumps are providing an estimated $100 billion in economic value to the developing world.

  Jagganath Mule, a farmer in the Sindhi Kalegoan village in southwest India, has dramatically increased the yield of his vegetable crop thanks to a low-cost drip irrigation system based on “pepsees.” The system was invented by an Indian farmer who had a side business selling frozen Popsicles. One day he realized that he could wind long, uncut rolls of durable Popsicle wrappers along the rows of his crops and then pump water into them. The holes in the perforations between each Popsicle wrapper acted as distribution points for the water in the tube.

Atul Loke

The seeds in this photograph were grown using the “pepsees” drip irrigation

system. Sometimes the original tubes made of clear plastic allowed algae to grow and contaminate the water. The manufacturer, delighted that its product had a vast secondary market, is now producing a line of black wrappers to solve the problem.

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Atul Loke

A Billion Slingshots  205


Only 5 percent, or $4 billion, of all international aid from developed countries goes to water and sanitation projects.

For about what people in the U.S. spend on bottled water every year ($10 billion), the world could halve the number of people without access to clean water by 2015.

  Bottles of water fetch $20 each in the name of charity. A group called Charity: Water uses every dime of the purchase price to dig freshwater wells in Uganda, Malawi, Central African Republic, Scott Harrison Ethiopia and Liberia. 

  Bottled water has a deservedly bad reputation these days. So how is it that 32-year-old Scott Harrison, a former party promoter turned water evangelist, can sell tens of thousands of bottles of his own Charity: Water brand for $20 a pop? Simple. He tells his customers that they aren't buying bottled water; they're building wells in Africa. A small coterie of black-tie twenty-somethings have raised over a million dollars. Photographs taken by Harrison, an accomplished photojournalist, are part of the draw at high-profile fund-raising events ranging from the Sundance Film festival to exhibits in New York City’s Union Square. Using Internet technology, volunteers with cameras and images overlayed on Google Maps, Harrison brings home storiesoftransformedcommunitiestoenabledonorstoseethe benefits their donations.  

Rick Smolan


One fifth of the world’s population and a third of the Earth’s land surface (15 million square miles) is threatened by global desertification.

Desalination plants are the artificial rivers of the Middle East, accounting for nearly 40 percent of municipal water supplies in the region.

 Spain’s push to develop its arid southern coast for tourism has

required it to tap the Mediterranean Sea for fresh water. The country’s 700 desalination plants produce 800 million gallons yearly. Worldwide, more than 12,000 desalination plants produce more than 4.4 trillion gallons.  Georg Fischer, Bilderberg, Aurora Photos

 Workers install one of the 9,000 filters at the $256 million desalination plant in Yuma,

Arizona, which removes salty runoff from U.S. farms on the Colorado River. The plant, 70 miles from the sea, came online in 2007, in the middle of an eight-year drought in the West. Water from the plant goes to Mexico under treaty obligations, and it is 40 times more expensive than water obtained from other natural sources. 

Jim Richardson, National Geographic, Getty Images

A technician draws a water sample from a reverse-osmosis filter at the Heemskerk

desalination plant in the Netherlands. Reverse-osmosis technology uses semi-permeable membranes to remove salt and pollutants from water. Already in household purification systems, reverse-osmosis technology is taking over the desalination industry, replacing plants that use heat to distill water.  208  Blue Planet Run

Marc Steinmetz, Aurora Photos A Billion Slingshots  209


To keep pace with the growing demand for food, it is estimated that about 15 percent more fresh water will have to be withdrawn for agricultural purposes by 2030.

More than 10,000 nongovernmental organizations around the world are helping to address the world's water crisis.

 Deborah and Ann Njenga water their farm in Juja, Kenya. Ann’s

KickStart water pump has taken her beyond subsistence farming and opened up new business opportunities, including an exotic flower nursery, a tilapia fish farm and the occasional car wash. 

Stephen Digges

 Stephen Ngiri demonstrates KickStart’s low-tech micro-irrigation solution for rural

farmers in Kenya. The pedal-powered water pump has enabled Stephen and his family to increase tomato output by five times and employ an additional eight workers during harvest season. Stephen Digges

 Nick Moon and Martin Fisher came up with the concept of the KickStart pump

in Kenya during the early 1990s after observing that aid projects tended to wither once the aid workers returned home. Their concept was to create an affordable and easy-to-manufacture device that would empower landowners to become “farmerpreneurs.” KickStart water pumps are produced locally and sold to farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Mali. These human-powered pumps enable farmers to plant three or four crops a year, increasing incomes as much as tenfold. Michael Collopy 210  Blue Planet Run

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In 2003, Peter Agre won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of aquaporins, membrane proteins that prevent pollutants from entering cells. By arranging water molecules into single lines, these pathways ensure that only pure water is allowed to pass through them. Cells are smart; they have learned that one of the most important things a cell needs is pure water. Humans are smart too, but desperation leads people to drink water they know is polluted when the alternative is no water at all. The 1.1 billion people who live in poverty and lack access to clean water are forced to take what is available, even when that water contains heavy metals, solvents, bacteria, protozoa, viruses or parasites. They drink it even if it means risking paralysis from polio, deformity from Schistosoma, or death from cholera or typhoid. Children are the most vulnerable because most of the poor people in the world are children. Today, in late 2007, the human race is at a critical juncture. If you look at the science that describes what is happening on Earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. Yet, around the world, in every country and city and culture, there are compelling, coherent, self-organized congregations involving tens of millions of people dedicating themselves to change. What we are seeing everywhere around the globe are ordinary and not-so-ordinary individuals willing to confront despair, power and incalculable odds in an attempt to restore some semblance of grace, justice and beauty to this world. Every person who works on behalf of humanity has a unique story. My friend Jin Zidell is a perfect example of this global movement. The seed for his Blue Planet Run Foundation was planted in 2002 in a small Indian café called Avatar’s located in Sausalito, California. Avatar’s is legendary in our homely industrial neighborhood for taking the idea of service to a new level. People line up for hours on Thanksgiving when owner Ashok and his family provide free meals to all patrons as a way to honor his late brother-in-law. On that day, turkeypumpkin enchiladas, seared vegetables and cumin-laden soups stream out from  More than sixty days into the Blue Planet Run, Lansing Brewer

the kitchen until late into the night.

crosses the Bixby Creek Arch Bridge, on a foggy cliff-side stretch of California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Lansing, who celebrated his sixtieth birthday before the run began, is the team’s senior participant, and a constant source of inspiration to the younger runners. 

Chris Emerick

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 Taeko Terauchi-Loutitt runs along the Donau River in Vienna, Austria on June 18, 2007. Born in Tochigi, Japan, Taeko started running 16 years ago. Her selfless decision to run around the world had an unexpected personal benefit when she fell in love with fellow runner Canadian Jason Louttit during the three month relay race. 

Chris Emerick

Jin Zidell asked if we could meet because he wanted to do something to make a difference in a world that appeared to be spinning out of control. Like Ashok, Jin had lost a loved one, his wife, and had spent a long and profound period in mourning. To those of us who were his friends, his heartache seemed bottomless and immeasurable. But on that day we met for lunch, Jin seemed different. He wanted to do something to honor Linda. What struck me as we spoke was the scope of Jin’s dreams. His eyes were as big as his love for Linda. His grief had become resolve. When Jin asked me to suggest a way he could make a real difference I suggested that he do something that was measurable, something that could change an individual’s life in a single day, that he focus on a global problem that could be solved in a decade, an endeavor that could actually push the needle with respect to improving peoples’ lives and the environment. He looked at me puzzled and asked, what would that be? I knew of only one thing: water. Ninety minutes later, he left determined to find a way to provide safe drinking water to 200 million people for the rest of their lives by 2027. Since that day, Jin has never looked back. Five years later the Blue Planet Run Foundation has three major initiatives under way. The first is the Peer Water Exchange, which aims to enjoin thousands of non-governmental organizations to find, fund and share the best water projects around the world. The second is the extraordinary photography book you are holding in your hands, designed to bring home Jin’s belief that that pure water is a right, not a commodity. The third initiative of the Blue Planet Run Foundation is the circumnavigation of the globe by runners, symbolizing a circle in our hearts and minds, a closing of the loop of love, care and responsibility that people share for each other. From June 1 through September 4, 2007, a team of 22 dedicated runners set aside their own lives for 95 days to carry a message to the entire planet that undrinkable water is unthinkable in today’s world. If the Blue Planet Run Foundation can change the world to ensure that no child will ever be harmed by the water he or she drinks, then it will be one of the great miracles of the 21st century. And Jin’s dedication to the memory of the person he loved most will have changed the world. — Paul Hawken


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The movements begins with a step, followed by millions more.

From June 1 through September 4, 2007, a team of 22 athletes engaged in an extraordinary circumnavigation of the globe, running 15,200 miles, across 16 countries and 4 continents, 24 hours a day for 95 days to raise awareness about the global water crisis. 1. Jin Zidell, Founder and Chairman, Blue Planet Run Foundation 2. Jason Gross, 30, Washington, DC 3. Will Dobbie, 25, Seattle, WA 4. Mary Chervenak, 39, Anderson, SC 5. Dot Helling, 57, Yokohama, Japan 6. Richard Johnson, 30, Pittsburgh, PA

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7. Brynn Harrington, 29, Milwaukee, WI 8. Rudy van Prooyen, 57, Den Haag, Netherlands 9. Laurel Dudley, 26, Dorset, VT

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10. Laura Furtado, 43, Belo Horizonte, Brazil 11. Simon Isaacs, 26, Boston, MA 12. Shiri Leventhal, 23, Cleveland, OH 13. David Christof, 27, Prague, Czech Republic 14. Melissa Moon, 37, Wellington, New Zealand 15. Victor Lara Ricco, 33, Guatemala City, Guatemala 16. Paul Rogan, 37, Haltwhistle, Northumberland, England 17. Jason Loutitt, 33, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 18. Taeko Terauchi, 34, Tochigi, Japan 19. Sunila Jayaraj, 29, Kolar, IN 20. Emmanuel Kibet, 29, Moiben, Kenya 21. Lansing Brewer, 60, Winston-Salem, NC 22. Sean Harrington, 30, Calgary, Alberta, Canada 23. Heiko Weiner, 44, Suhl, Germany William Coupon


TOP ROW: New York City, NY New York City, NY

Rick Smolan BOTTOM ROW, left to right: New York City, NY

Rick Smolan / New York City, NY

Rick Smolan / New York City, NY

Misha Erwitt / Bloomington, IL

Alex Garcia

Rick Smolan

Delivering the Message

Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan and Canada.

For centuries, news and warnings from distant lands were spread from village to village, and from country

Each runner pledged to run 10 miles a day, and they alternated duties between 1,500 exchange points

to country, by messengers traveling great distances through treacherous and often untamed landscapes.

on their way around the globe. At each point, they took a moment to face each other and recite their

Once the bearer arrived, the details would be recited or sung in chants and melodies. Moments later,

message, which included an ancient Iroquois prayer:

another runner would be dispatched to the next village carrying the news to every corner of the land. That ancient tradition was restored on June 1, 2007, as 20 runners representing 13 nationalities departed

Water is life. We know its power in many forms — waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans.

the United Nations in New York on an extraordinary 95-day, nonstop relay race. The message: More than

With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of water. Now our minds are one.

1 billion people lack access to water they need for everyday life, and the rest of us can and should help alleviate the problem.

218  Blue Planet Run

We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength.

“Runners have always been the messengers,” said Simon Isaacs as he ran across the flat, dusty Mongolian steppe past a slightly bewildered nomadic herdsman. It was his 27th birthday and he was celebrating by

The Blue Planet Run would be the first of its kind to circumnavigate the globe, spanning 15,200 miles and

running 27 miles, a full marathon plus one for good measure. For Issacs, who had been working in Rwanda

16 countries including the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands,

on a water management project the previous summer, the run was an honor he didn’t take lightly. Blue Planet Run  219


 Kenyan-born Emanuel Kibet runs above the deepest lake in the world, Russia’s Lake Baikal, which contains a fifth of Earth’s fresh water. Kibet, who is one of 7 children, worked as a farmer, butcher and firefighter before starting his running career six years ago. He says he hopes his run will “help alleviate human suffering.” 

Chris Emerick


TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Kemerovo, Russia China

Chris Emerick / Midland, MI

Mark Leong, Redux Pictures / Chicago, IL

Chris Emerick / Beijing, China

Mark Leong, Redux Pictures / Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Chris Emerick BOTTOM ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Zhangbei,

Chris Emerick

David Christof, a student counselor at Miami University in Ohio, spent his summer vacation spreading the

Once Zidell had secured sponsorship for the run from Dow, he focused on recruiting a team of inspired

message. On Day 17, Christof’s team rearranged its schedule so he could take the lead on a homecoming

runners and negotiating permission for them to run through 16 nations around the northern hemisphere.

run into his native Czechoslovakia across Prague’s historic Charles Bridge. “With goodwill,” said Christof, “monumental achievements are possible.”

to Apple Computer and Microsoft, as a casual advisor on the Foundation’s internet strategy. It didn’t

The Blue Planet Run is part of industrialist-turned-environmental-philanthropist Jin Zidell’s larger plan

take Kursh long to become a passionate supporter of the Foundation’s efforts, or to realize that the

to generate sufficient resources to provide fresh water to 200 million people over the next 20 years.

Foundation could use some management help. So, in October 2006, Kursh asked Zidell to stop by

The first step was finding a like-minded corporate sponsor to fund the run. He met his match in Andrew

his house, and then volunteered to serve as CEO of the Foundation. Zidell accepted the offer on the

Liveris, chairman and CEO of the Dow Chemical Company, who shared the same vision.

spot, and announced it to his team that afternoon. Kursh immediately set about creating a management

“Today, 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. To put that in context, that number is

222  Blue Planet Run

In mid-2006, Zidell enlisted his neighbor, Matt Kursh, a serial entrepreneur who had sold companies

framework that would allow the massive global task to operate smoothly and efficiently.

approximately equal to the entire population of the world at the time our company was founded in 1897,”

Olympic Torch Run veteran Dill Driscoll and his event production team at ignition took on the

Liveris said. “Our partnership with the Blue Planet Run Foundation is a signature investment in awareness

overwhelming task of planning the route and logistics across four continents, as well as moving 22 runners

and education of this key issue facing the global community.”

and 30 staff 160 miles each day. Day and night, they remained the runners’ faithful guides and cheerleaders. Blue Planet Run  223


 Vermont Attorney, Dot Helling, 57, has run more than 100 marathons in her career, but her run along the Great Wall of China during one of the more exotic legs of the 15,200 mile race was by far the highlight. “The Chinese were fascinated by my Blue Planet Run team outfit and my muscles — they made me feel like a celebrity. In fact, some thought I was there to train for the Olympics.” 

Chris Emerick


TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Kemerovo, Russia

Chris Emerick / Paris, France

Beijing, China

Chris Emerick

Chris Emerick / Orsa, Belarus

Nicholas Tavernier / Kansk, Russia

Chris Emerick / Paris, France

Nicholas Tavernier / Kansas City, MO

Chris Emerick

The runners were divided into five teams of four runners. Each team was expected to run a 40-mile leg

utilized. The exteriors were decorated with Web site addresses directing people to donate money for the

during its six-hour shift. Despite every precaution, however, not everything went smoothly. One of the

water crisis — but the windows were reserved for several pairs of legs stretching out between stints. The

alternate athletes broke his ankle on his first day while running through Belgium. In Russia, the Silver Team

hot showers in these rolling locker rooms came in the form of disposable wipes.

careened across a highway when its van’s front axle broke. Shortly thereafter, in Mongolia, the team’s next van was hit by a drunken driver. And in China, Suniyla Jayaraj had to battle his way through one of the worst traffic jams encountered on the trip to reach the exchange point at the Great Wall.

Brewer, a retired teacher from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had to be ordered by team doctor John Pershing to stop running more than his daily 10 miles. Years before, Brewer had developed a water quality

Will Dobbie, who had spent the previous summer researching water problems at Kenya’s Lake Victoria,

education program for his students, and now, on his first trip out of North America, it was his time to live

found himself battling stomach problems day after day while running through Russia and China. And he

out that message.

wasn’t alone: At one point the teams were forced to temporarily swap members just to keep pace while the sick recovered.

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But adversity only seemed to strengthen the will of the runners. The oldest runner, 60-year-old Lansing

Long-distance running is rarely considered a team sport, but a distance of 15,200 miles can only be accomplished as a team. On paper, the Blue Team seemed a most unlikely partnership: Paul Rogan was a

The reality of the Blue Planet Run also looked, felt and smelled far less romantic to the runners after

gardener and running coach from Scotland; Heiko Weiner, an inorganic chemistry researcher from East

weeks of constant travel, cramped by months’ worth of gear and provisions. Even the sides of vans were

Germany; Rudy van Prooyen, a chemist and a veteran of the Dutch Special Forces; and Laurel Dudley an Blue Planet Run  227


TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Zhangbei, China Marin, CA

Mark Leong, Redux Pictures / Port Huron, MI

Catherine Karnow / Port Huron, MI

Chris Emerick / Irkutsk, Russia

Chris Emerick / Pittsburg, CA

Catherine Karnow BOTTOM ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Chicago, IL

Alex Garcia

Chris Emerick

ecotourism guide from Hawaii. They met for the first time at the training camp in Lake Placid just one

“It’s about the four of us making it back to New York together and going the distance,” was Rogan’s

week before the run started in New York.

explanation for why he took pride in running the extra miles for his team that day. Weiner later

While working their way across the Mongolian steppe in the afternoon heat, the Blue Team was on the verge of collapse. Van Prooyen was suffering from a groin injury from bouncing around in the van on the

what you’re doing is important enough.”

rough Siberian roads. And the meniscus ligament Weiner had torn in his right knee while running the

For every one of the runners, there was that single moment when the purpose of the Blue Planet Run —

Boston Marathon was flaring up again.

and their own commitment to it — became transcendently clear.

Dudley took the team’s first handoff and ran an extra two miles, hoping to relieve pressure from her

For Emmanuel Kibet, a professional marathoner from central Kenya, that moment came on the shores

ailing teammates. “I’ve worked on a lot of volunteer projects and leadership programs before, but nothing

of Lake Baikal, the oldest, deepest and largest body of fresh water on the planet. Kibet was one of seven

comes close to the intensity of this one,” she explained while stopping only a few seconds to hydrate.

children growing up in a family whose water source was a nearby well that often served up only muddy

Weiner struggled to complete one of his most difficult 10-mile legs. But the ailing van Prooyen had to be coaxed back into the van by Dr. Pershing after gamely completing eight of his 10 miles. 228  Blue Planet Run

commented, after jumping out of the van to run with Rogan for the last few miles, “It’s never that bad if

water. Perhaps this was one of the reasons he stunned his teammates by suddenly leaping into the remarkably clear, frigid lake.

Blue Planet Run  229


TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Paris, France

Nicholas Tavernier / Moscow, Russia

Chris Emerick / Osra, Belarus

Chris Emerick / St. Louis, MO

Chris Emerick

For Richard Johnson, his favorite memory was Day 37, July Fourth, when tens of thousands of music

But even veteran runners reached moments when almost the only thing keeping them going was their

fans were attending Live Earth concerts. Johnson, an accomplished musician who has played with Herbie

role as messengers about a growing world crisis. Vermont lawyer and ultramarathoner Dot Helling had

Hancock and Wynton Marsalis, found himself running through Omsk, Russia — dreaming of being at a

such a moment on a long uphill climb in Siberia, escorted by a police car driven by a local officer. “It just

concert, but soldiering on.

makes me even more determined,” she said through gritted teeth from an agonizing side-ache, “to get the

Mary Chernak, a chemist and project manager at Dow Chemical, and admittedly only a recreational runner, was constantly grateful just to be on the run. “I’m the last person who should be here with all these phenomenal runners and extraordinary people, not

230  Blue Planet Run

message out about how bad and solvable the water crisis is if only more people knew about it.” For Victor Lara Ricco, what kept him going was the memory of the time he carried armloads of water bottles and delivered them to a remote Guatemalan village during a previous water crisis.

to mention being here in the middle of Mongolia.” she whispered in amazement while watching the sun

For husband and wife team Brinn and Sean Harrington of California, it was the recognition that many

rise after completing a night run. “This is my Olympic Games and my one shot to be on the world stage

others around the world were experiencing far worse that kept them motivated at the most trying

to do something extraordinary. When else am I ever going to be able to put my professional and married

moments. “Whenever I feel like I’m struggling or I’ve had enough of this,” said Brinn, “I think of somebody

life on hold for three months to focus on something so important to so many other peoples’ lives?”

having to haul their water 10 miles a day.” Blue Planet Run  231


ď “ Supporters, journalists, friends and family welcome the Blue Planet Run team as they cross the finish line at precisely 12 noon on September 4, 2007 at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. 

Rick Smolan


TOP ROW, LEFT TO RIGHT: Niagara Falls, Canada New York City, NY

Chris Emerick / Chicago, IL

Rick Smolan / New York City, NY

Alex Garcia / New York City, NY

Rick Smolan / New York City, NY

Rick Smolan / New York City, NY

Rick Smolan / New York City, NY

Rick Smolan

Rick Smolan

Melissa Moon, a national champion runner from New Zealand, put her racing career on hold for the

Equally indelible in all the runners’ minds was the glorious final stretch — Day 95, September 4, 2007 —

run. “I first heard about it while I was competing in Nigeria — where, as a professional athlete, I felt very

when they crossed the finish line in front of a cheering crowd at lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport.

privileged and selfish. I was preoccupied with getting enough clean water for my training while many of the

Surrounded by friends, family and well-wishers, the 22 runners assembled on stage and basked in the first

people living there were looking for enough clean water just to survive.”

moment in more than three months in which they were all standing still. Each took their turn receiving a

The three-month commitment to make a difference in other peoples’ lives took on an extra “life-changing” dimension for Canadian Jason Louttit and Taeko Terauchi from Japan. Accomplished runners in their respective countries but utter strangers at the start of the race, the two began dating in Prague on Day 17, with a little matchmaking help from Brazilian teammate Laura Furtado. On Day 34, while making the continental transition from Europe to Asia, they announced their engagement. When the run passed through Japan on Day 61, they received Terauchi’s parents’ permission to marry, which they did in Blue Planet Run style: running past Niagara Falls on Day 89. 234  Blue Planet Run

water drop-shaped award from mentor and father figure Zidell. After thanking the runners one last time, Zidell told the crowd that the impressive dedication and commitment of these extraordinary men and women demonstrated what human beings can do when they let their better natures take over. Then he smiled and announced that the second Blue Planet Run was already scheduled for 2009. The message — Water is Life — has been delivered to the world. Now it is our turn to act. — M i ke cerre

Blue Planet Run  235


236  Blue Planet Run

Blue Planet Run  237


Acknowledgements This book was produced and directed by Against All Odds Productions PROJECT STAFF Rick Smolan

ASSIGNMENT RESEARCH Mike Cerre

LEGAL COUNSEL Nate Garhart

Special Thanks Monica Almeda

Rodney Smith

Rachel Baum

Phil Disher

Kayzi Healy

Research Director

Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, LLP

Pia Frankenberg

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Chris Bedford

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Jerry Held

Walter Pirone

Fulvio Bartolucci

John Pershing

Marco Di Martino

Matthew Reed Bruemmer

Project Director

Lee Cerre

Jennifer Erwitt

Erica Gies

Project Director

Robert A. Grove

Katya Able

Matt Jenkins

Chief Operating Officer

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Michael Rylander INFOGRAPHIC DESIGN Nigel Holmes ESSAY WRITERS Robert Redford Actor and Environmentalist

Fred Pearce “When the Rivers Run Dry”

Diane Ackerman “A Natural History of the Senses”

Bill McKibben “The End of Nature”

Jeffrey Rothfeder “Every Drop for Sale”

Dean Kamen

Norm Levin

Editorial Director

John Curley Contributing Editor

Heather Jones

Emmy Award-Winning Broadcast Journalist

PHOTOGRAPHY Mike Davis Photography Director

Deborah Pang Davis

Amy Erwitt

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David Erwitt

ACCOUNTING & FINANCE Robert Powers calegari & Morris Certified Public Accountants’

Heidi Link

Erik Erwitt Misha Erwitt Sasha Erwitt

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Circle of Blue

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Cabell Brand Center for International Poverty & Resource Studies

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Violet O’Hara Sponsors The Blue Planet Run Foundation www.BluePlanetRun.org

digital railroad

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makers of PhotoMechanic www.camerabits.com

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Google

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O’Reilly media

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The Understanding Business

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General Manager

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SENIOR ADVISoRS Marvin Smolan

Web Design

(FTL Studio) Inflatable Arch and Stage Design

Executive Director

Jesse Smolan

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CFO

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Fine Design

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JUNIOR ADVISoRS Phoebe Smolan

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Sam and Kate Holmes Adobe

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Creative Direction and Copywriting

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CEO

Kaplow Communications, Inc Liz Kaplow

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(Will Bruder + Partners) Inflatable Arch and Stage Design

Blumberg & Associates bookkeeper

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Founder and Chairman

Creative Director

Danielle Kursh

238  Blue Planet Run

Elliott Erwitt

Drive Savers

Carl Ganter

Michelle Molloy

Ellen Erwitt

Blue Planet Run Foundation Jin Zidell

Scott Gaidano

Margot Duane

Photo Editor

Chris Eberlein

Office Coordinator

Former Editor-in-Chief, Discover Magazine

Meg McVey

and Mortensen Design, Graphic Design and Identity

The Lester Family

Photography Director Photography Liaison

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Radical Media

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workflow consultant

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Foundation Extended Family Polly Green and Chris Emerick, Flair Films

Roz Hamar

Copy Editor

Designer

Chandi Hematala

Adobe

calegari & Morris Certified Public Accountants’

DESIGN PRODUCTION Diane Dempsey Murray

Russell Brown

OFFICE ADMINISTRATION Ally Merkley Nancy Merkley

EDITORIAL AND CAPTIONS Michael Malone

The Tech

Adobe

Topher White Brett Wilkison

Peter Friess

Google

the carol mann agency

Joanne Shen

4-color printing guru

Michael Specter

literary agent Carol Mann

Office Manager

Inventor Insulin Pump and Segway Human Transporter “The Microprocessor: A Biography”

Sergey Brinn

Jonah Becker One and Co. Design Baton Design

Adrian Lurssen, “The Message” Author

Laura Freel Daniel Knizhnik Matt Swanburg John Hutto

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David Hutto

Nonprofit Business Solutions Back Office Services

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Sapient

Willie Smith

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Paige Harris

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati staff

Kimmy Awad

George Jones Ignition

Mark Driscoll

Marcello Sessa Kate Smithurst Drew Brannon

Chairman

Karen Steinbuechler

Susan Driscoll

TJ Rigdon

CEO

Joseph Brubaker

Mike Hersom

Alyson Young

Executive Vice President

Lauri Chotiner Erin Packer John Stewart Andi McWhorter Ricky McWhorter Robert Howell Kelly Kozlowski Steve Williams Edoardo Cogo Patricia Breed George Couperthwait Jennifer Jordan Max Helton Julia Emmons Millie Daniels Sue Bozgoz

Piotr Kaszkur Kevin Dudley Mike Cohen John LoBrutto Alessandro Giorgio Fabio Umilta’ Barbara Stoklossa Luke Joyce

President and CEO

Evan Jacobs CFO

David Herrick

Executive Vice President

Leah Schmerl Melinda Templeton-Duffy Joanne Amorese Rae Graham Chris Livingston Lindsey Coyle Alysha Crouse Danielle Arceneaux Laurie Adler Ryan Wallace Blair Decembrele Laura Byrne Laura Thomas Shannon Eis Sheri Lapidus Hilary Munson Linda Michalisin Laura Shelman Palace Press Staff Raoul Goff Publisher

Peter Beren & Michael Madden Executive Directors

Mikayla Butchart Assistant Managing Editor

Iain Morris Art Director

Melissa White Design Production Supervisor

Fabio Buccafusco

Lina S. Palma

Ingmar Lent

Production Manager

Francesco Pocchi

Noah Potkin

Kayleigh West

Press Supervisor

Edward Barker Ross Dawson Justin Relf Francis Ryder

Blue Planet Run  239


Donors Abby Bronson Abimibola Shabi Adam Brodheim Adam Kawasawa Adam Skolnick Adele Cohen Adlai Majer Adrian Sedlin Aimee Murphy Ajaya Agrawalla Akemi Adams Al and Norma Mae Exner Alain Gravel Albert Liu Alex Grennan Alex Makai Alexander Fuqua Alexander Ting Alexei Perez Alfred Arias Alfred Castillo Jr Alice Perry Alisa Warshay Alison Delmage Alison Nadle Alla Bronskaya Allan Wolff Allison Bembe Alondra Trevino Amanda Broniszewski Amanda Hauf Amanda Tucker Amber Elizabeth Gray Ami Marcus Ami Minteer Amy Altman-Browning Amy Cissell Amy Dick Amy Ferree Amy Howard Amy Hui Amy Kennedy Amy Lamberti Amy Luce Amy Rezmer Amy Smith Ana Marino andres & Kyle De Lasa andres Edwards andres Suarez andrew Cox andrew Hyte andrew Skinner andy Beam andy Elliott Angel Hardy Angelina Yap Anil Rao Ann Bernstein Ann Chotiner Ann Shelly Anna Forrester Anna Gillespie Anne and Vincent Mai Anne Green Anne Haines Anne Kann Anne Kelly-Rowley Anne Van Prooyen Anne Wallin Anne-Catherine Nagel Annemarie Helms Anthony Targan Antonette Delauro Antonio Valero Solanellas Ariane Dhaene Arlene Rexford Arnold Zidell Arthur Nudelman Ashley Forrester Ashley Houston Ashok Patrawala Audrey Albrecht Audrey Fay Ava West Barbara J. Morgan Barbara Jones Barbara Leff Barbara Mcarthur Barbara Migl Barbara Monteilh Barbara Pontello Barbara Rice Barry Grossman Barry Richards Becky Mcniven Belen Carmichael Ben Chance Ben Pijcke Benjamin Matuska Bernd Bredehoeft Bernice Hopkins Beryt Oliver Besh Barcega Beth Wendling Betty Mitchell Betty Schaeffer Bill Kizorek Bill M. Rudolphsen Billy Bardin Billy E Gray Birgit Lacey Bitter To Sweet Waters Blake Robertson Bonnie Dominguez Brad Veitch Brandon Wall Brandy Caron Breanne Lundin Brendan Connor Brian Collins Brian Foreman Brian Hayes Brian Lee Brian Lotfi Brian Zurek Brianna Reynaud Bridget Hockemeyer Brie Sloan

The Blue Planet Run Foundation offers its deepest thanks to its supporters around the world.

Bruce & Karen Asher Bruce Byers Bruce Carlyon Bruce Hodgdon Bruce Raabe Bryan Stamp Bryce Avallone Byron Miller Caitlin Thomas Cameron Haley Candelario G Olvera Cara Mattleman Carla Thomas Carlos Gonzalez Carlos Ryerson Carmen Gonzalez Carol Bauer Carol Baum Carol Kasle Carol Moen Carol Wean Carol Yeoman Caroline Clabaugh Caroline Logue Carolyn Agnew Carolyn Braden Carolyn C. anderson Carolyn Hammis Carrie Baker Stahler Cate Cetrulo Catherine Brubaker Catherine Gouvin Catherine Maxey Cathy Hale Celena Barrera Celia Bressack Chad Lecompte Chantal Kane Charla Cloudt Charles anderson Charles Hudler Charles Patterson Charles Young Charlie Darr Cheryl Hayes Cheryl Waldbaum Chetan Kamdar Christelle Loupforest Christian Anfosso Christina Krawczyk-Miller Christina Mckibbon Christine Heath Christine Ingram Christney Mcglashan Christoph Kleimeier Christopher Cullen Christopher Etchells Christopher Grams Christopher James Christopher Menzies Christopher Millard Christopher Mudd Christopher Short Christopher Wakefield Cindy Goetz Cindy Griffith Cindy Kohut Cindy Rohoman Cindy Stern Claudia Caine Claudia Caine Claudia Cummings Cleo Bolen Clifton Miskell Clinton Schroeder Coen De Cock Corey Boles Courtney Lehnhard Craig Mosley Craig Pfeifer Curt Theriault Cynthia Burt Cynthia Clayton D C Mclaughlin Jr D Haddon Foster Ii D J Crake Dale Elley-Bristow Dale Hummelle Dale Kiel Daniel Borsutzky Daniel Haarburger Daniel Naimey Daniel O’Brien Daniel Wolf Daniela Messingschlager Danielle Drayer Daphne Patterson Darin Qualls Daryl Barker David Barton David Boeckman David Christof David Collins David Curry David Douglas David E. Dassey David Freshour David Herrick David Holcomb David James Stewart David K Willis David K. Herlihy David Kepler David Klanecky David Krzyzaniak David M. Pincus David Manthey David Parker David Seal David Sutherin David Tetreault David W Stowe Davida Hagan Dawn C Meyerriecks Dawn M Hart Deanna Kursh Deb Weiss Debora Golding Deborah Brink

Deborah Clar Deborah Holton Deborah Mckeeman Deborah Ward Debra Kalmakav Debra Koehn Debra Stanley Debra Steines Denise Cederquist Denise Paleothodoros Denise Pollock Denise Silk Deniz Demirors Dennis Carney Dennis Lane Devon Hull Diana Burton Diane Biber Diane Boardman Diane Glaser Diane K Flynn Diane Mcnally Diane Miller Diane Plowdrey Dianne Allport Dianne Dahl Dick De Jong Dick Nagaki Don Fysh Donald Kane Donna Bartlett Donna Crill Donna Hutchins Donna Lavins Donna Radka Doone Watson Dorothy Helling Dorothy Noble Dorothy Tolfree Douglas Bollam Douglas Brown Douglas Parker Dow Midland, Mi Dow Sarnia, Ca Drake Zimmerman Duane Romer Durga Menon E. Whitney Westgate Eamonn F. Grant Edith Rogers Edward P. Sullivan Eido Shimano Eileen Baral Elaine Katz Elise Harrington Elizabeth Frey Elizabeth Grandy Elizabeth Haines Elizabeth Kanne Elizabeth Moore Elizabeth Osley Elizabeth Wagner Ellen Balk Emily Diznoff Eric Edelson Eric Stangland Eric Tilenius Erica Martling Erik Green Erika Allison Erin Kelly Erin Packer Ernest Frank Ethel Peterson Eva Mcglynn Evelia Sosa Faranak Amirsalari Frank Buschky Frank Massaro Fraser Crow Fred Cook Fred Fielding Fred Friedman Gabriel Wyzga Gaiatech Inc Gail Dooley Gary & Carol Fradkin Gary Rudnick George andreadakis George Burch George Butterfield George Couperthwait George E. Springston George L Sherman George Welch Georgeanne Bohn Georgia E Welles Georgia Krueger Gerald Lachapelle Germaine Dewolfe Endres Gina Adduci Gina Gibbs-Foster Glen Johnson Glen Orr Gm Orourke Gonzalo Antezana Grace A. Mcdonough Grace Ward Greg Abel Gregory and Ana Freiwald Gregory Grocholski Gregory H Butler Gulshan Haley Lowry Hans Hummel Hans-Joachi Lunk Phd Harold Davidson Harry A Proctor Harry W Murray Hayley Deluca Heather Hawkins Heather Lynn Hillers Heather Norbeck Heather Patrick Hee Kong Heidi L Ravenscraft Heidi Mattingly Heiko Weiner Helen Kastner

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Stephanie Brown Stephanie Swanson Stephanie Zuro Stephen B. Martin Stephen Cambridge Stephen Corby Steve Burns Steve R. Burns Steve Werner Steven Corn Steven Henderson Steven Holli Steven Hough Steven Lamy Steven Lee Steven Ogunro Steven Reddick Steven Strand Steven Wells Stuart Mccracken Stuart S. Sherburne Sudhir Parekh Sulejman Lolovic Susan Berry Susan Brennan Susan Davis Susan Fraser Susan Greenhalgh Susan Oetzel Susan Schroeder Susan Van Doren Susan Wolfe Suzann Bugosh Suzanne Gaulocher Suzanne Lewis Swadha Sharma Sweta Somasi Sylvester Ceci Sylvia Saperstein T. Charles Powell Tami Fohl Tanis Gray Tanja Albright Taya Kohnen Tekla Israelson Teresa Baratz Teresa Collins Teresa Farrar Terese Woll Terrence Finneran Terrence Linseman Thaddeus Siermann Theresa Ciccolella Theresa Fletcher Thomas Cuthbert Thomas Doerr Thomas Emilson Thomas G. Arminio Thomas Macewan Thomas Manning Thomas Moran Thomas Nash Thomas Rosset Thomas Small Thomas Stuart Timiza Wagner Timothy Gayfer Timothy J Horst Tina Adwar Tina Braband Cross Todd D. Elliott Tom, Jan, Nick, Blake Artushin Toni Mcewan Torin Reed Tracy Napp Tracy Perry Trey Lambert Tricia Fisher Ulf Schoell Vaishali Chadha Vallari Shah Van Houwenhove Koen Vanessa Decarbo Vavrik Nicole Venkat Shankaramurthy Vicki Hopper Victor & Linda Atiemo-Obeng Victor M Castaneda Victoria Blooston Victoria Rokhlin Vinod Shah Virginia Okinga Virginia Panter Virginia Swisher Vivian Otteman Walter Foster Iii Wanda Baker Warren F. Kitzmiller Wayne E. Campbell Wendy Love Wendy Nienhuis Wendy Wert Wes & Dayana Simons Wes Heinlein Whitney Bayne Whitney High School Associated Student Body Wilda Kalbach Will Harlan Willem Van Prooijen William Ayscue William Gaskill William Goldman William Kaufmann William Mccarthy William Polk William Seibert William Valade Winfrid Mirau Winterport Pizza Woods Mona Woon Lam Wong Wubbe Prins Yiwen Fung Yongjun Lei Yoshiko Tsukuda Yuk Man Tam


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