25 Water Heroes

25 Water Heroes

Do you know a water hero? Around the world many thousands of people are doing important work to solve water issues, through research, policymaking or hands-on solutions. They are helping eradicate diseases and predict droughts. Here are a few of Impeller’s water heroes (in no particular order).                                                                                  

  Jimmy Carter


Founder, The Carter Center, United States

    Jimmy Carter

When former US President Jimmy Carter and his Carter Center launched their campaign in 1986 to eradicate Guinea worm – a parasitic infection caused by drinking water from stagnant sources – there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. By last year that number was down to less than 1,800 cases in just four countries. The center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program manufactured and distributed plastic straws equipped with nylon cloth for straining microscopic water fleas out of drinking water to every person at risk for the disease in Sudan. There was also a targeted education campaign. Guinea worm is expected to be the second human disease to be eradicated, after smallpox.
Photo: The Carter Center/L. Gubb

  Ek Sonn Chan


General Director, Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, Cambodia (PPWSA)


Decades of conflict left the water supply system of the Cambodian capital in tatters. In 1993 Ek Sonn Chan and his team refurbished the whole system, introducing new billing and payment collection methods and world-class management. Today PPWSA operates without state subsidies and provides 24-hour service and 90 percent coverage to the city.

  Stephen Carpenter


Professor of Zoology and Limnology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States


Stephen CarpenterSteven Carpenter’s groundbreaking research, which earned him the Stockholm Water Prize 2011, has shown how lake ecosystems are affected by the surrounding landscape and by human activities. His findings have formed the basis for concrete solutions on how to manage lakes. Carpenter’s expertise includes contaminant cycles, eutrophication, and the ecological economics of freshwater.
Photo: Jeff Miller/University of Wiscons in-Madison 

  Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy


Executive Director, Patel School of Global Sustainability, University of South Florida, United States


Kalanithy VairavamoorthyAn expert on urban water issues, Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy has worked to create clean and sustainable water and sanitation systems through programs for UNESCO and the European Union. His research projects have studied how climate change and population growth will affect the future of sustainable water systems for cities.

  Peter Gleick


President and Co-founder, Pacific Institute, United States


Peter GleickScientist Peter Gleick is behind The World’s Water, which has for more than a decade provided data and insights on pressing freshwater issues. Gleick focuses on the connections between water and human health, sustainable water use, privatization and globalization, and conflicts over water resources.

  Anders Berntell


Executive Director, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Sweden


Anders BerntellAnders Berntell is one of the most influential voices within the water sector today. Under his leadership, SIWI – best known as the organizer of World Water Week – has become a world-renowned policy institute. In March 2012 he will become Executive Director of 2030 Water Resources Group at the International Finance Corporation within the World Bank Group.
Photo: Thomas Henrikson 

  Kofi Annan


Former UN Secretary General, Ghana


Kofi AnnanKofi Annan has always put water at the center of his policy agenda, calling access to safe water a “basic human right.” The Kofi Annan Foundation promotes food and nutrition security in Africa, including raising awareness of the importance of efficient water management.
Photo: FAO/Giulio Napolitano 

  Patricia Mulroy


General Manager, Las Vegas Valley Water District, United States


Patricia MulroyWater from its bubbling springs may have attracted the first Europeans to the Las Vegas area, but in recent decades the resource has been in ever shorter supply as the desert city booms. With only 100mm of rain per year and water consumption increasing by double digits, radical ideas were needed. Patricia Mulroy has overseen a daring and often controversial water policy that has succeeded in serving 2 million residents with water without building dams or importing water from distant rural areas. Las Vegas now pays residents US$40,000 an acre to replace lawns with rocks and native plants, and has brought in stringent water usage rules. The city’s population has grown by 50 percent in the last 10 years, but it still uses the same amount of water.
Photo: LVVWD 

  Diane D’Arras


Senior Executive Vice President Water Europe, Suez Environnement, France


As the former head of R&D at international waste and water giant Suez Environnement, Diane D’Arras has for nearly a decade been influential in the development of new municipal water systems. Her work focuses on improving treatment techniques and reducing the energy consumption of stations.

  Crown Princess Victoria


Patron, Stockholm Junior Water Prize, Sweden


Crown Princess VictoriaAs a patron of the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden works to raise awareness of water issues around the world. In 2011, she and her husband Prince Daniel became joint patrons of WaterAid Sweden.
Photo: Cecilia Österberg, Exray 

  Alison Bick


Inventor, United States


Alison Bick was awarded the 2011 Stockholm Junior Water Prize for developing a low-cost method to test drinking water quality using a mobile phone. The jury said the technology, developed while Bick was at high school, “has the potential to revolutionize our ability to monitor water quality in a way that is fast, accurate, flexible and less expensive.” 

  Neal Keny-Guyer


CEO, Mercy Corps, United States


Neal Keny-GuyerDriven by a mission to create “a more just and peaceful world,” Neal Keny-Guyer is using entrepreneurship to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. During 16 years as CEO of Mercy Corps, Keny-Guyer has expanded the aid agency to become a major humanitarian and development organization. Besides microfinance and micro-franchise operations, Mercy Corps is also active in water issues. It is supplying clean drinking water in flood-hit Pakistan from two filtration plants, and in northeastern Kenya its emergency response team is providing clean water to more than 186,000 drought-stricken people. Mercy Corps risk-reduction programs in Colombia, China, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal and Tajikistan are expected to benefit some 500,000 people.

  Thomas Hawksley


Civil Engineer, United Kingdom


The work of Thomas Hawksley (1807–1893) prevented thousands of cholera deaths and contributed to British health and prosperity in the late 19th century. He developed the first pressurized clean water supply available at the turn of a tap – the forerunner of today’s systems.

  Ned Breslin


CEO, Water For People, United States


Ned BreslinThe international non-profit organization led by Ned Breslin has been described as “one of the most innovative NGOs” tackling the global water challenge. Water For People is dedicated to creating reliable access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation, and hygiene education programs.

  Prince Willem-Alexander


Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, The Netherlands


Prince Willem-Alexander believes that solving problems around access to water and sanitation has a central role to play in eradicating poverty and bringing about sustainable development. In his UN role he helps galvanize action on water-related problems around the world.

  Charles Fishman


Investigative Journalist, United States


In his book The Big Thirst, Charles Fishman presents some fascinating facts: that two liters of Coca-Cola requires 5 liters of water to make; that the water coming out of your tap is four billion years old. But he also calls for a second revolution in water use, moving from an area of unthinking abundance to one of careful, smart management.

  Qin Guoying


Secretary General of China Women’s Development Foundation, China


The Water Cellar for Mothers Project has helped provide some 1.3 million people in rural China with usable water. More than 100,000 water cellars have been installed and 1,200 water collection projects started, meaning rural women no longer need to spend time fetching water and can instead help with homework and work to earn money.

  Alexandra Cousteau


Founder, Blue Legacy International, United States


Alexandra CousteauTraveling the globe as a child with her famous grandfather gave Alexandra Cousteau a strong sense of environmental awareness. In 2008 she founded Blue Planet, a project that uses film, educational tools and social media to share stories about critical water issues.
Photo: Bil Zelman 

  Upmanu Lall


Director, Columbia Water Center, United States


Upmanu LallUpmanu Lall and his co-workers have developed methods for predicting seasonal and longer-term hydro-climatic processes, such as precipitation variability in drought-prone regions where streams may dry up periodically. His research has also shown how to integrate this information into long-term management of reservoirs, aquifer withdrawals and irrigation systems.

  Petra Wadström


CEO, Solvatten, Sweden


Petra WadströmPetra Wadström’s idea for making unsafe water drinkable by using solar energy won the Best Green New Product Innovation Award at the 2011 International Green Awards. The awards’ judges called Solvatten “a truly transformative solution with significant environmental impact and social benefits.”
Photo: Solvatten 

  David Suzuki


Co-founder, David Suzuki Foundation, Canada


David SuzukiGeneticist and broadcaster David Suzuki has won widespread acclaim for his efforts to protect water ecosystems in Canada. With the foundation that bears his name, he has worked to strengthen laws in British Columbia to keep streams flowing, and partnered with local communities to protect water in important watersheds.
Photo: David Suzuki Foundation 

  J. Carl Ganter


Journalist, Director and Co-founder, Circle of Blue, United States


J. Carl GanterJournalist J. Carl Ganter brings the global water crisis into the light through engaging content. The Circle of Blue network, comprising journalists and scientists reporting on and researching water resource issues, also publishes WaterNews, an invaluable source for water news and data.

  Katie Spotz


Adventurer, Safe Water Advocate, United States


Katie SpotzKatie Spotz spent 70 days rowing single-handedly across the Atlantic to raise money and awareness of the need for safe drinking water. The 22-year-old’s efforts raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Blue Planet Run Foundation, which has projects in 18 countries.

  Jan Eliasson


Chairman, WaterAid Sweden


Jan EliassonAs a career diplomat, Jan Eliasson has often had to deal with conflicts rooted in scarce water resources and has experienced first-hand the desperate need for clean water in developing countries. He continues this work today with WaterAid, an organization that has helped millions of people gain access to safe water through low-cost, sustainable projects.
Photo: Daniel Holking, WaterAid Sweden 

  Asit Biswas


President, Third World Center for Water Management, India/Canada


Asit BiswasA true water hero, Professor Asit Biswas’ research and constant challenging of the status quo has had a real impact on water issues at a global level and on the ground. He was a major force behind the International Water Supply and Sanitation Decade in the 1980s, which is credited with significantly improving the lives of millions in the developing world through affordable technologies and new approaches. Concerned that potential future water leaders were not being heard at major international forums, he initiated a program to select and mentor future water leaders. Biswas won the 2006 Stockholm Water Prize.

by David Wiles