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Educate. Empower. Act. The mission of Project WET is to reach children, parents, educators and communities of the world with water education. We invite you to join us in educating children about the most precious resource on the planet — water.
Connie Nielsen is an actor and the founder of Human Needs Project. Born in Denmark, she has starred in films on both sides of the Atlantic, including Gladiator, Mission to Mars, Devil's Advocate, The Hunted, One Hour Photo, Demonlover and Brothers to name a few. In April 2010, Ms. Nielsen went to Nairobi, Kenya; to shoot Lost in Africa, a film set in part in the slum of Kibera. While touring Kibera, Ms. Nielsen was surprised to find that hundreds of thousands of people living in the center of a modern city like Nairobi had no access to water and were spending a large amount of time and money to obtain water—water that did not come with them any guarantee of quality. In fact, water in Kibera is often a source of serious diseases, which further add to a host of problems the desperately poor residents have to deal with. She decided to build a self-sustaining well and water-based services there, teaming up with David Warner to create Human Needs Project.
Ms. Nielsen is a featured speaker at Project WET's Sustaining the Blue Planet conference.
Project WET Foundation (PWF): How did Human Needs Project develop, and what inspires you to be involved with the work?
Connie Nielsen (CN): After initially being shocked by conditions of life inside the notorious slum of Kibera during the filming of 2010's Lost in Africa, I returned to San Francisco determined to create a well and some showers to help alleviate some of the devastating problems of living in Kibera. I asked a good friend, David Warner, who leads a very progressive constructions company, to join me in my endeavor, and he accepted, and HNP was begun the summer of 2010.
During our period of research it became clear that the lifespan of this kind of effort turns out to be rather short, and I didn't want to invest our resources in something that wouldn't last (mismanagement, lack of funds and lack of technical expertise and spare parts are the main reasons so many wells across the developing world stop working within a year or so of its life). Instead, we decided to find a way to make the project long lasting and to create an opportunity for growth and empowerment by making our project—and its future subscribers—self-sufficient.
In choosing to use Clean Technology, we found a way to render our Well/Town Center independent of any infrastructure, and by verifying the presence of a source of water (Kibera has underground water) and digging deep enough, we could also control the quality and availability of water. We also realized that a co-op structure would protect the Well/Town Center from various power factions or gangs, while at the same time providing income to sustain its economic future.
In the process of developing the technology for our Well/Town Center we created relationships with the innovators and entrepreneurs who now make up Human Needs Project. It seems like a strange thing to find lack of infrastructure in the middle of great cities, and in the process of searching for solutions for Human Needs Project, we have come to attach great hope to the promise of Clean Technology's ability to provide energy and water solutions without the need of a big, centralized purveyor system, in much cheaper and faster units like our Town Center solution. Ultimately, I am hopeful that we will be able to upgrade slum housing with bottom-of-the-pyramid-priced Clean Technology products, leading the way toward individual solutions to providing energy and waste-water management.
It is this hope and its tantalizing prospects of rendering the individual independent of macro infrastructure while empowering through local ownership and programs combining education with access to credit and networks of information that inspire me to be involved with this work.
PWF: Human Needs Project launched in Kibera. Why was Kibera chosen, and what kinds of projects are underway there now?
CN: We chose Kibera because it was the place that inspired the whole idea-but almost more importantly, this was where we had a built-in connection with the community through the people I worked with on the film. These connections were vital in providing our understanding of community issues, entitlement processes and connections to other community groups with whom we vetted our ideas and controlled for interest in, and feasibility of, our proposed program. Many programs are at work on the myriad problems besieging some of the poorest people on the planet, and we are trying to communicate with as many of these groups as possible, in the effort to learn from their lessons, and to try to avoid mistakes.
Groups here work on providing health care, education, prevention of violence, sanitation and many other issues. Our main concern is to provide clean water to residents there, but in this process we are also planning an aggregated array of other services to our subscribers—for example, we would like to put them into a place where the compounded effect of our services (education, credit/savings, information, Wi-fi, a playground, internships programs, etc.) will create real access to information and opportunity for women and men, empowering them to find a life beyond this place.
PWF: What do you see as a potential role for water, sanitation and hygiene education in your work in Kibera and beyond?
CN: Well, one of the obvious things we talked about was this: OK, we dig a well and pump up clean water. Then subscribers get the water, but the jerry-can they transport the water in is contaminated and now the clean water is no longer clean, but instead a source of potential infection. We reasoned that we would create our own bottling system, but what if the glasses at home are contaminated, or the hands holding the glass are dirty with fecal matter (it's hard not to have fecal matter somewhere in your surroundings in a place where there are few toilets and as a result "flying toilets" [plastic bags used for defecation that are tossed as far away as possible from people's homes] land human excreta all over the place at night). What if the food is contaminated, or the plates it is served on?
A central part of Human Needs Project's concept is to create, distribute and broadcast on our subscriber website as much information about water, sanitation and hygiene as we can find or produce, to reduce contamination while working on reducing the need for "flying toilets" by providing toilets at our center, and hopefully one day finding a clean technology solution to a single-user, safe, non-flush toilet for slums, which its denizens can afford.
We were pleased to be approached by the Mother Nature Network to contribute a blog entry for their "Water Works" series. We chose the topic of "virtual water"—that is, the water that is used to make the goods and services that we consume every day. Everything from clothes to energy production involves water, which is why Project WET President and CEO Dennis Nelson called the post "Six Ways We All Use Water Without Knowing It." Here's an excerpt:
When most of us think about how we use water, we think about watering our lawns, brushing our teeth, taking a shower or even just enjoying a cold glass of water on a hot summer day.
What we don't consider is the indirect or virtual water that we consume - water that is used every day to produce the food we eat, the energy we use, the products we buy and the services we count on. Some 95 percent of the average U.S. resident's water footprint is comprised of virtual water, and worldwide, the annual global trade in virtual water is said to exceed the water in the Nile River 10 times!
Visit Mother Nature Network to read the rest, and leave feedback if you like it!
Nestlé Waters is one of the Project WET Foundation's longtime sponsors. Their parent company, Nestlé, today received the 2011 Stockholm Industry Water Award at World Water Week 2011. We'd like to congratulate them on the honor, and we're reprinting their press release here:
Nestlé today was officially crowned as the winner of the 2011 Stockholm Industry Water Award at World Water Week 2011.
The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)--organisers of the annual seven-day event in the capital city of Sweden--awarded the prestigious prize to Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Nestlé Chairman, who received the award on behalf of the Company.
Recognising Nestlé for its leadership, performance and efforts to improve the water management in its supply chain, the honour also acknowledges the Company's efficient operations and its work with suppliers, particularly farmers.
Mr Brabeck-Letmathe--who accepted the award from Dr David Garman, Chairman of the International Water Association (IWA) and member of the Stockholm Industry Water Award Jury--hailed the prize as a prestigious honour.
He said: "Over the last couple of years, we have worked relentlessly to achieve better recognition of the importance of water as the most valuable natural resource. We have also been striving to use it more efficiently in our daily endeavours to bring good nutrition from farm to fork."
He added: "The Award that has been bestowed to Nestlé this year, is not only a great honour, but also a call for all of us to reinforce our commitment with water and continue our fight to achieve the right place for water in our society. To care for water is to care for life."
Peter Forssman, Chairman of the Stockholm Water Foundation; and Lars Gunnarsson, Chairman of the Award Nominating Committee; both praised Nestlé on its award win and highlighted the importance of the role of businesses on tackling water issues.
The Stockholm Industry Water Award--administered by the SIWI--recognises and encourages innovation and leadership in sustainable development of the water sector.
Awarded to any sector of business and industry that improves the global water situation, the award was established in 2000 in collaboration with the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
An independent award committee, comprising of leading academics in water sciences, reviews all submissions and selects the winner following an open nomination process.
World Water Week--which this year takes place until Saturday, August 27--has acted as the annual focal point for the planet's most urgent water-related issues since 1991.
Aiming to provide a unique forum for experts, practitioners, decision-makers and leaders from around the globe to exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions, the theme for this year is Water in an Urbanising World.
Under the theme, topics include rapid urbanisation, competition for water, and global and governmental challenges.
Before he was an Educator Astronaut, Richard R. Arnold, II was a teacher. Specifically, he taught math and science, and he taught all around the world--Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Romania. In 2004, Mr. Arnold left his international classroom and joined NASA, but he has remained an educator. In this 2009 video, he talks about the instructional opportunities that can be inspired by space exploration:
Astronaut Richard Arnold will be a featured speaker at the upcoming Sustaining the Blue Planet: Global Water Education Conference. Click here to learn more.