GTR: Solving the Global Safe Drinking Water Crisis with Blue Planet Run

Published on February 17th, 2009 | by

GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks with Sabrina Walasek of Blue Planet Run Foundation, which has a vision of a world where everyone has access to safe drinking water and healthy human beings have a chance to live up to their potential.

Transcript

Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to “Green Talk”, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com.

“Green Talk” helps listeners, in their efforts to live more
ecofriendly lifestyles, through interviews with top vendors, authors,
and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues
facing the global environment today, as well as the technologies,
products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area
of your life.

Hey everybody this is Sean Daily. Welcome to another episode of
Green Talk Radio. It is good to be back. I was on a short vacation and
we’re very happy to be back.

We have a very exciting episode today on a very important topic, which is clean safe drinking water for the planet.

I am just going to go over a few facts here that most people don’t
realize about drinking water. Most of us really take it for granted.

I don’t know if most of you know this, but 1.1 billion lack access
to an improved water supply. That’s approximately 1 in 6 people on
earth.

2.6 billion people in the world lack access to improve sanitation.
Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water, which is about 0.007% of all
water on earth, is readily accessible for direct human use.

A person can live weeks without food, but only days without water.
And one person needs 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to survive.

So we have this crisis which we’re not feeling it in all parts of
the world, certainly not in most parts of the United States, but it is
a major issue. So my guest today on the program to discuss this with me
is from an organization whose mission is really to deal with this in a
very unique way. Her name is Sabrina Walasek. The organization is the
Blue Planet Run foundation at blueplanetrun.org,

Sabrina is the program director for Blue Planet Run. She is a former science teacher and educational content developer.

Sabrina welcome to the program.

Sabrina Walasek: Thanks so much Sean.

Sean: Well, it is good to have you. So why don’t we just jump right in. Tell me what is the Blue Planet Run foundation.

Sabrina: Sure. The Blue Planet Run Foundation is a non profit and as
you mentioned we are working to spread awareness and raise funds to
bring safe drinking water to the 1 billion plus people who don’t have
it today.

Sean: So tell me exactly how you guys are doing that.

Sabrina: Well, we go about it in a variety of ways. We have a lot of
support from runners and athletes, but we also have supporter who don’t
run. Primarily, we started last year, in 2007; we did an event that was
the relay around the world, the first one ever. We had 21 elite runners
who ran for 95 consecutive days and it covered 15,200 miles. Their
mission was to help inform the world about the water crisis and, also,
to motivate people to do something about it.

So we have some very strong advocates in that arena and we found
that, from a grassroots perspective, people are really coming out of
the woodwork and everybody wants to help in any way that they can. So
it’s been a very exciting time.

As you mentioned, a lot of Americans can still turn on their tap and
they don’t really see the crisis. But I think it’s actually becoming
more and more apparent as we are facing some of our own issues.

We have a faith based organizations, schools, individuals, community
groups. Everybody is realizing that they can give a small amount and
make a huge difference.

Sean: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people say that really clean safe
drinking water is going to be the canary in the coal mine for global
problems before other things, the results of global warming, and from
carbon missions, and things like this. A lot of people say, well the
real crisis is happening more immediately with regards to water and the
availability thereof.

I know that people, like the guy that invented the segue, is now on
this issue as seeing it as more important than personal transportation
that this is really… I am not thinking of his name at the moment.–But
I know that just in general a lot of people who are in the know are
saying this is where we need to be putting our global efforts right now
or at least a large part of them.

Sabrina: Yeah.

Sean: You mentioned the running. So I am just wondering, is it sort
of the model is that people are sponsoring these runners that are
running around the world, so it is basically a sponsorship type thing?

Sabrina: It was a one time event in 2207, but we are planning to
hopefully have another run, that goes through the fifty states, next
year. And in addition to that, we have some grassroots programs. People
really are very creative about how they can support our effort and the
water projects around the world.

So it’s not just running. It can be…we have had people put on bake
sales and the whole gamete. We also have a book that we sell. It just
recently won a award and we can talk about that a little later. But
it’s really a matter of finding what makes sense to you as an
individual and how would you want to support our efforts.

Sean: OK. But it seems like, I mean from the name, obviously, Blue
Planet Run, and from the website, it seems like that at least the
genesis of this organization was this idea of doing the sponsor run.

Sabrina: Absolutely!

Sean: Yeah. So you mentioned that there were 21 elite runners that
did the original run. Are these professional runners or are these
everyday Joes that are more in the marathoner category?

Sabrina: Yeah, they were just regular people. There was a series of
qualifications. They needed to leave their lives for 95 days, so…

Sean: Wow.

Sabrina: They are just regular people. They are amazing. Obviously,
many of them have trained to run long distances. They weren’t
celebrities, but they are now, for us.

Sean. Yeah. So in moving forward with future events are you
planning on a smaller number of runners? Or do you have future plans
for more races that, maybe, involve more people or the same people?
What is the situation there?

Sabrina: Well we are really hoping that we can do, as I mentioned,
the 50 state run throughout the US. But in addition to that, after this
run I think we have really tapped into something where we have people
who put on races on their own. We have had students, some of our
runners have had contact with family members and friends, and other
groups have developed their own races and have spread the word for us.
So it is actually catching on at a grassroots level.

But we definitely plan to continue to host runs. So it will be exciting to see where it all pans out.

Sean: And I see on your website, on the blueplanetrun.org website,
you’ve also got a ‘row for water’ event that is happening, as well.

Sabrina: Yeah, that was one of those that just…This is a young woman
by the name of Katie Spots. She goes to college in North Carolina. I
had the opportunity to meet her at one of our trail runs this spring
and this is her own personal challenge. She wants to row across the
Atlantic and she wants to give half of the money that she raises to our
foundation to help build water projects.

Sean: That’s great.

So I am just curious, Sabrina, why did you choose water as the focus of your efforts in the organization over other causes.

Sabrina. As you mentioned, it’s the number one human need. And,
unfortunately, people are really suffering unnecessarily. It doesn’t
require the long term research that cancer or Aids or HIV does, so I
think the founder really cam to the realization that the solutions are
here, we could irradiate this problem without a great deal of research
or money.

It really tends to be the basics. It’s people who just don’t have a
well or you can put up a rain harvesting system for them. Obviously,
you need an education, but it is not rocket science by any means. So
we are really looking at the simple solutions.

Sean: Well, I guess, there are different categories of solutions
because I was thinking earlier of the segue inventor Dean Kamazes.- I
recalled his name.- Dean Kamazes is treating it more like rocket
science where he is trying to go for the fancy solution, the
technological solution, which is great. Certainly we like to see this
addressed at all levels

And I think, certainly those collective efforts are what’s needed to create a global solution.

Sabrina: Absolutely! I mean, creativity and innovation is very
critical in any effort where your dealing with a world wide situation.
I think my point is just that it’s not only rocket science it is at our
fingertips and we can help people today, right now, without going into
heavy duty research.

In our book we actually highlight some of the water heroes and
include the innovation and technology that is going on not only in ways
of transporting water and filtering water, but capturing water. So we
are very excited about all of those possibilities, too.

I think that on an individual level people sometimes want to see an
immediate reaction. And so, I think that what gives us the most hope is
that for $30 you can provide a lifetime of safe drinking water for
people. And so $30 is very accessible for somebody.

Sean: Yeah, certainly.

Well, I want to hear more about that and I want to hear about the book.

We are going to take a quick break and then we will be back.

We are talking on the topic of solving the world’s safe drinking
water crisis with Sabrina Walasek of the Blue Planet Run foundation.
You can find them online at blueplanetrun.org.

This is Sean Daily on “Green Talk Radio”.

[Sponsor break]

Sean: Hey everyone, we are back on “Green Talk Radio”. This is Sean
Daily. We are talking on the world’s safe drinking water crisis and we
are talking with Sabrina Walasek of the Blue Planet Run foundation.
They are an organization whose focus is to help solve this problem.
They are intending to provide safe drinking water to 200 million people
by 2027.

Sabrina, before the break we were talking about the basics of the
organization, some of your past events, and also, your focus. I just
wanted to clarify. So is your focus really international?

Sabrina: Well, it is mostly primarily international, but we actually
now accepting and looking for opportunities in the US. I think, we
realize that there are many issues here domestically with water
scarcity and quality issues. So we really want to support efforts
domestically, as well.

For instance, I live in California and I recall hearing a couple of
months back about how the Central Valley of California has whole
communities that can’t even cook with their water. They can not access
any safe tap water. And that really means that they are all relegated
to purchasing water.

You don’t think that that actually happens in the United States, but it does.

I also think that people are realizing there are really easy ways to
use gray water, to access rain water for gardens, and that type of
thing, so.

Sean: I am fascinated by that. That is interesting. I did not know
that there were communities like that in the United States. I am just
curious on that. I don’t know how much you know about the specifics on
that, but I am wondering, I mean, it seems like there is almost some
implied obligation for the community, the municipality, to provide at
least a level of water that isn’t harmful to the population. What is
the legislation around that? Or is there any? What is the logistical
obligations of the community, of the municipality, to provide that to
its citizens?

Sabrina: Yeah. I am sure that they are doing as much as they can.
That is definitely not my area of expertise, but I know that with the
Central Valley that is a huge agricultural area. So there are two
implications. One that the locals who are providing, basically, the
bread basket of the Untied States are themselves facing health hazard.
And I think that there is probably a lot of effort going on to try to
clean up the situation. I believe it’s around nitrates or something in
the soil that is contaminating the water tables.

Sean: I see.

Sabrina: As I said, I’m not completely informed on the whole issue.
But that is one of the issues that we are facing as a whole in the
United States is that we have some infrastructure that’s been around
for awhile. We are hitting that tipping point where we are at an age
where things are starting to break down under ground.

And when it comes to taxes and things like that, do people want to
invest in whole new systems? It’s a big effort. So do we deal with it
now? Or do we find new solutions to our systems? There’s a lot of
questions out there for us to handle domestically. And of course, the
food and water relationship is a big one as well.

Sean: It’s a real wakeup call. I think most people don’t realize
that these problems can happen in the United States. I think that…even
myself; I was surprised to hear that. And I think that most of us
really think that this is happening else where and not here on our
soil. So it’s good to know. And I think that will probably at least as
impressive to a lot of other people as it was to me when you said that.

Let’s just switch gears for a minute. I wanted to talk about the
finding4 on the water projects that you’ve got. Can you tell us a
little bit about your model there?

Sabrina: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is where our foundation is
most unique. We’ve developed an innovative model called ‘the pure water
exchange’. This is an online model that enables water groups, your non
governmental organizations and collectives around the world, to
collaborate and work efficiently. A lot of non profits are scrambling
to get money for their cause and the great thing about this model is
that we are actually providing transparency where there is …

[Sponsor break]

Sabrina: …competition.

The way it works is we pull in the funds from various places we have
already mentioned and we have funding cycles. Once the funding cycle
comes any of our members who want to submit a proposal are able to do
so. And rather than it be an administrator in an office who reads the
proposals and makes the decisions, we’ve put it in the hands of the
experts who are in the fields, who know what works and what doesn’t,
and who understand the community.

So these members, actually, read each others reports. This allows
them to ask questions directly to one another. They can report back on
status of what is going on with the projects. So it really allows them
to learn the lessons that are needed to make these projects successful.
It also insures that more of the money goes directly to the projects.

I think, also, another really interesting point is that right now,
I think we have about 24 members. We just went through and signed up
some new members. And we have members that are extremely large, way
larger than we are. And then, we have some members that are small
collectives for a particular region. And what’s really great about this
is that they are all on the same playing field. They are able to talk
to one another, learn from one another, and they are assured that they
will get the funding that they need.

Sean. That’s great.

I’m curious about…I wanted to talk about, you mentioned the book
earlier. I know that you have this coffee table book that’s done pretty
well and has garnered some awards. Can you tell us about the book?

Sabrina: Oh yeah, definitely!

It’s stunning. It’s a photo essay. It was done by two renowned
photographers, Rick Smolen and Jennifer Erwitt. And if you are
familiar, Rick Smolen is most known for his “Day in the Life of”
series. And it’s really two books in one. Mainly it talks about the
global water story and it provides some of the really harsh realities,
that we are facing in many many areas around the world, with these
really striking phots.

But, as I mentioned earlier, it also highlights and features some of
the water heroes, the real people on the ground who are doing things to
make their communtiy better and to make the world better. And there is
also a section around technology, innovation, some of the really
wonderful marketing campaigns projects that have gone on around tap
water project and charity water and various other efforts.

And then as a second part of the book, the back part of the book
really documents our relay around the world. You get to see all of
these runners and hear their story, see where they ran, and get more
information around the impact that that had.

What I find interesting about “The Day in the Life of “ series and
this book is Rick’s ability to really galvanize a group of really key
talented photographers and photo journalists. So with this book for one
month 40 journalist crossed the globe taking these pictures and at the
same time there was a team of researchers who would contact various
photographers on every continent to identify some of the existing
bodies so that we could share information.

And it was about a month ago, we just out of the blue received a
call that said the independent publisher book award has been given to
you as the outstanding book of the year, the book most likely to save
the planet. So that was amazing.

Sean: That’s great.

Sabrina: I mean, we really got excited about that because so much
work and so much effort went into this beautiful beautiful book. In
fact, the thing that I really love about the book is that it’s not
written in a textbook format. It’s very easy to understand. It’s a
motive. And a lot of statistics are presented in a very clear
digestible format.

So we are finding now that educators and professors are contacting
us and they want to use it as part of their curriculum. We offer free
PDF that you can download. So it is great for peope who want to project
it up onto a wall and discuss certain aspects of the book. Because, as
well as selling the book, our goal is to share the information.

Sean: Right. And I am curious, do you have a link you want to provide for people that are interested in that PDF you mentioned.

Sabrina: Sure. You can get it from our website. It will be in the media section. So I can definitely post that for you.

Sean: OK. So the blueplanetrun.org website?

Sabrina: Right.

Sean: OK. I’m just curious, do you have any statistics on how the
successes that you guys have had so far with the past events and fun
raising? Do you have anything you can share with our audience in terms
of the things you’ve accomplished in addition to future goals that you
have set?

Sabrina: Well, let’s see. The event itself, the 2007 Relay Around
the World was considered a huge success in terms of media. We received
something like 600 million impressions. So I think that for such a
small organization that had just started that was pretty amazing. The
funding, I am not totally clear on the dollar amounts that came
directly from the event because we had money coming from different
sources.

And I think that 200 million people being saved by 2027 is a very
lofty goal and we are working as hard as we can to achieve that goal.

Sean: It is. Do you feel like you’re on track, as of right now, towards that goal?

Sabrina: It’s hard to say. I would say that we probably could use more support, for sure.

Sean: And we want to help make that call out to our audience. That’s
one of the reasons we wanted to have you on the program today is to
really reach out to our audience and encourage them to go online and
sponsor an event or purchase the book. These are the kinds of things
that you can do, among other things, to help this cause. So we want to
encourage our audience to at least take a look at the website and
check out what Blue Planet Run is doing.

Sabrina: Great. Yeah. And our book is also sold in Barnes and Noble.
I have also seen it in many boutique stores as well, just your local
bookstore, so you can always ask and if they don’t have it, maybe, they
will get it.

Sean: OK. Then what about the online sellers like Amazon.com, is it being sold there?

Sabrina: Yes, it is on Amazon.com, as well.

Sean: And you mentioned, on your website, as well.

Sabrina: Yes.

Sean: Great.

Sabrina do you have any other final words today for our audience?

Sabrina: Yes. Well, I just want to remind everybody, as we mentioned
before, that $30 provides a lifetime of safe drinking water to one
person. So just think about what you spend $30 on in a given day and
know that you can make a huge difference right now.

And if you can’t provide any money, than that is OK too. We are just
looking for ways to share information and spread information. We have
got some really great videos on YouTube, which are also on our website.
So we are just looking for people to get involved.

Again, our website is blupplanetrun.org. So visit us and learn more.

As a last final phrase, we like to always say, “Water is life. Pass it on.”

Sean: Great. Well, we certainly appreciate having you on the show today.

I just want to remind everyone again that Blue Planet Run
foundation, they have a vision of a world where everyone has access to
safe drinking water and healthy human beings have a chance to live up
to their potential. Its goal, again, is to provide safe and clean
drinking water to 200 million people by 2027.

My guest today has been Sabrina Walasek. She is the program director
for Blue Planet Run foundation. You can find them online at
blueplanetrun.org.

For those of you that have been interested in today’s podcast I just
want to give you a cross reference to some of the other content on the
greenlivingideas.com site. We have a water conservation section that
covers all topics related to water conservation. And we have a drinking
water section that will be posted on the site shortly, hopefully by the
time this podcast is live. Also, you will find content in the eco home
living section including an interview with Primo Water who is looking
to provide eco-friendly bottled drinking water.

This is Sean Daily for “Green Talk Radio”. Thanks again everybody for tuning in.

One last tip is, if you haven’t done so already and you are a
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you to please go to the greenliving.com site, look in the upper right
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Thanks again everybody.


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