This World Water Day, leave no one behind

I’m often asked why I run, and how running relates to water. For me, personally, it’s about doing the one thing I know I can do (over and over, every day) that will help to shine a spotlight on the global water crisis. But the #RunningDry community has shown me that there’s more to running than that… When people come together to run (or walk) for water, they talk about the issue. They connect and discuss and share tips and ideas. And there is such worth and power in that.

This World Water Day, on the 22nd March 2019, the theme is ‘leave no one behind’. It’s about ensuring that everyone has access to clean, safe water - women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people and many others. Reflecting on this theme made me think about one of the amazing connections we’ve made in the #RunningDry community - Patrick Shores, the co-founder of Untapped Shores.

All images: Untapped Shores

All images: Untapped Shores

Solving their own water crisis

Untapped Shores is directly impacting the global water crisis in the most local way. “When I was living in Uganda in 2013, I noticed that there was plenty of aid available to solve the water issues in Uganda, but a breakdown in the supply chain resulted in rural villages rarely seeing any of this aid,” explains Patrick. “These hard-to-reach communities lived in a continuous cycle of water-borne disease because they had no other options. We created Untapped Shores to solve the water crisis for the hardest-to-reach populations around the world.” Their patented technology, Pure Shores CPS, provides an innovative solution for rural villagers to solve their own water crisis and break their dependence for safe drinking water on aid organizations. This tiny piece of tech allows villagers to purify mass amounts of unsafe water for thousands of people. It’s an easy-to-use device that fits in the palm of the hand, and is powered simply by sunlight and salt water.

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Addressing WASH issues

Essentially, the tech localizes the production of an effective and safe water purifying chemical. It’s quite extraordinary: portable enough to carry in one hand, but able to create safe drinking water for a village of up to 2,000 people per day. SDG#6 (which I know and love!) states that the water crisis is in fact a three-part problem: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH). What’s so great about the Pure Shores solution is that it addresses all three parts of the problem: through water purification, sterilization, and hand-washing. And it’s so simple to use that older school children often lead the teaching sessions. The purifying product (chlorine) is made instantly, by simply using readily-available materials of sunlight and salt to power the machine.

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Unlocking untapped potential

Another reason I love the Untapped Shores project is because of its emphasis on women. “We see a very strong connection between SDG #6 Clean Water & Sanitation and #5 Gender Equality,” says Patrick. “Communities with women as prominent leaders have the ability to unlock untapped potential within that community. Every time one of our women water entrepreneurs creates meaningful change in their community, we see 10 more women step up and ask to help.”

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Ensuring sustainability

Sustainability is obviously the trickiest element of any aid project: there’s no use helping a village if it means they’re dependent on you from then on. That’s why Untapped Shores has a model that strives for full financial sustainability in each project within 18 months. How? With two core elements:

  1. Accountability: Before a project begins in a village, the village contributes 25% to 35% of the total project cost. Their contribution places significant value on the results and strengthens the village's commitment to the intervention.

  2. Entrepreneurship: The women water entrepreneurs are challenged to create a value-adding way to use the new water project as an income-generating activity to financially support the ongoing operation of their business and give them new financial independence (important for SDG #5 Gender Equality). Some women choose to create a water bottling company, others set up a community safe water outpost, still others sell small bottles of chlorine for home use. It’s a win:win:win - the project becomes financially independent, the women entrepreneurs become financially independent, and the project impact organically grows to reach a greater population. Everyone prospers, both financially and from a health perspective.

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Delivering hope

What I love about this is that it’s a social enterprise model that turns a hopeless situation into one that’s full of hope. If a village has:

  1. A contaminated water source which the community wishes would stop making them sick,

  2. A village structure that lends itself to hub-and-spoke distribution and impact measurement (such as a school or a hospital), and

  3. An engaged and supportive community with a strong woman leader invested in driving change

They can drive this life-changing initiative.

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Understanding the problem

In Mpigi, Uganda, for example, the girls had to walk for two hours to collect water twice a day for their households. This walk is a dangerous one that prevents the girls from attending school regularly. The worst part, after all of that work, is that the water they collected was contaminated. But it was their only option, so they drank it and the endured the cycles of water-borne illnesses in their daily lives.

Untapped Shores teamed up with two eager women community leaders to eradicate water-borne disease in their village, forever. First, they dug a well to reduce the long dangerous walks to water that were keeping the village girls out of school. Second, the women water entrepreneurs built a water treatment center where they pumped, filtered, and finally purified mass amounts of water with Pure Shores.

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The purified water was run to a distribution spicket in the middle of the village which was opened to the public at certain times each day, charging a very low cost per jerrycan of water so that the entire village could afford safe drinking water. With the little profit they received, they expanded their business and in turn their impact on water and sanitation. They distributed Pure Shores solution (chlorine) to the large primary healthcare clinic, and brought the system to schools and taught them the value of washing hands with Pure Shores before eating and after using the latrine.

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As a result, the women water entrepreneurs reduced the incidence of enteric disease at the Butoolo Healthcare center by 19.2%, created over 1 million liters of purified water for the community, and provided 3,192 children with safe water and the means to wash their hands daily while at school. And the project was financially self-sufficient in only 7 months!

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“It’s stories like these that really inspire us,” says Patrick. “With every new sustainable project launched, a previously ignored, vulnerable population of people will receive our most basic human right: a safe drink of water.”

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Connecting the dots

So how does this go back to running? “I’m a lifetime runner and Ironman triathlete with a deep passion for ending the global water crisis,” Patrick explains. “I learned about the #RunningDry movement on Instagram when a running colleague of mine tagged me in one of her posts. I believe awareness and broad knowledge of the water crisis is the best medicine to cure it. Without awareness, it will get worse. The #RunningDry movement is an important one with the potential to bring droves of people together to solve this problem and introduce a world where no person worries about getting a safe drink of water.”

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Find out more about this extraordinary work at http://untappedshores.org