Water Innovations Include Generating Electricity from Rainwater

by | Aug 21, 2009

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bjorn-mug21A number of innovations are being highlighted at the Stockholm World Water Week event, some of them the result of corporate prizes.

I’ll start with the prize closest to my heart – the Stockholm Junior Water Prize (full disclosure: the global sponsor is ITT).

Eighteen-year-old Ceren Burçak Dag, of Nisantasi, Turkey, won the prize for one of the coolest projects I’ve seen (of course, I say that every year): Dag’s research may show us a way to harness rainwater to produce electricity. Seeing Dag on stage, along with the 50 other young nominees from 29 countries, was both moving and inspiring.

Some of the other projects were as well: Eileen Jang, of North Carolina and the U.S. winner, figured out how mercury builds in our water, which promises to help us better understand how it enters the human body. Mzwakhe Sifundo Xulu and Njabubulo Sihle Mbata, of South Africa, developed an inexpensive Auto Mechanical Tap that captures water from community faucets that would normally be wasted due to spillage. This promises to be a valuable tool for rural, arid communities, including their native South Africa.

One of the memories I will take away from this year’s Junior Prize is standing in front of one young nominee’s project and telling him it was very good. “Do you mean brilliant?” he said. I could only smile in response, so let me answer him now – yes, I meant brilliant.

We also heard from the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh Sanitation Movement in India. Since 1970, Dr. Pathak has worked to change attitudes toward traditional (and unsanitary) latrine practices in slums, rural villages and urban areas, and developed inexpensive toilets that have helped millions of Indians live better, healthier lives. Just as important, he is waging a campaign to abolish the traditional practice of manual “scavenging” of human waste from bucket latrines in India, while also championing the rights of former scavengers and their families.

If there is one thing I have learned from my more than 20 years of work in sanitation, it is that water, in this context, is fundamentally about dignity. So I also applaud Dr. Pathak and his work to promote this most basic of human rights. I can think of no better recipient of the award. It was an honor to meet him.

In other news, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) launched a report -“Water for Business: Initiatives Guiding Sustainable Water Management in the Private Sector“- which helps businesses find and use different tools to better manage water usage as well as measurement and communications techniques. This paper addresses an interesting challenge for those of us in the private sector: keeping track of all the groups participating in the water debate – as the WBCSD puts it, “who does what.”

The paper provides a side-by-side comparison of major initiatives, including, for example, the CEO Water Mandate and the Water Footprint Network. If you are interested in learning more about who is doing what, I suggest this is a good place to start.

Bjorn Von Euler, director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp., attended the World Water Week proceedings in Stockholm, Sweden. He is writing a series of reports on the event for Environmental Leader.

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