As the Global Water Coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I spend a lot of time thinking about water and figuring out ways to ensure we help more people have access to more water. It’s not an easy problem and one-size fits all solutions do not apply. Instead, I’ve found that the best solutions require catalytic problem solving and outside-the-box innovations, open collaboration and creative competitions. And it requires taking a closer look at previously overlooked sources of water.
Last week, millions of people globally celebrated World Water Day and one of life’s most basic requirements – water. A building block of life, water is also at the core of sustainable development and is linked to every major development challenge. The focus of this year’s World Water Day was the nexus between water and energy, underscoring the crosscutting nature of this issue.
Today, I am pleased to say we are seeing greater emphasis on this “nexus” approach as more and more people focus on holistic, integrated approaches to water challenges; looking at linkages that include water and energy; water and health; and water and agricultural production and health.
We announced the launch of a couple of brand new efforts that I believe are redefining the way USAID invests in water. I’m particularly excited about the new Desal Prize, an innovative prize we are launching in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of The Netherlands (MFA-NL) to identify small-scale, low-cost solutions to brackish water desalination.
Brackish water is what you commonly find in ponds. It’s thick, it’s murky, and it’s not exactly something you’d want to drink. However, with estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in severe water stress conditions by 2025, brackish water is increasingly being considered a viable source of water for crops, livestock, and even human consumption.
The Prize, which won’t officially open to applicants until May, will award up to $500,000 in prize money and $75,000 in “seed” money to individuals or organizations that develop cost effective, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable desalination technologies that provide safe water for drinking and for livestock and crops in developing countries.
Ten to 12 semifinalists will receive $5,000 as seed money to test or further develop their device. From this group, select finalists will receive an additional $5,000 to continue their project in the field before a judging panel selects the awardee(s) of the $500,000 grand prize.
The Prize is part of the $32 million Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development. Launched at the 2013 World Water Week in Stockholm, Securing Water for Food aims to source, incubate, and accelerate innovative solutions to produce more food using less water around the world.
In addition to the prize launch, we also announced the 83 semi-finalists from Securing Water for Food’s first $15 million open call for innovations. The semi-finalists were selected from over 500 applicants from 90 countries, 70 percent of which were developing countries. The 83 semi-finalists are working on groundbreaking water technologies and new financing products to improve water access. You can go to securingwaterforfood.org/SWFF-semifinalists.html to see the full list of semi-finalist organizations. Awardees, who will be announced later this year, will receive between $100,000 and $3 million in funding and business development assistance.