During a lively debate, From Tsunami to Drought, five enterprising experts outlined their ingenious solutions to the world's growing water crisis. Drought is predicted to become an increasingly universal problem that may well bring neighbouring states into conflict over access to water for agriculture, drinking and sanitation - a problem intensified by challenges such as climate change and pollution.
The five speakers presented convincing arguments, but it was Simon whose ideas and powers of persuasion won the audience's vote. His solution to the problem was sand dams. Sand dams are a simple technology which, Simon said, can not only help provide a reliable year-round supply of clean water to drought-stricken communities in Africa, but also significantly reduce the time that women in countries such as Kenya spend collecting water each day. In Simon's words, "Sand dams are, quite simply, a miracle."
Walking on Water - An Excellent Development Film
The other speakers who didn't win the (fictitious) $1billion cheque to put their ideas into practice, but nevertheless presented well thought out solutions, were Dr Tom Le Quesne of WWF, Professor Howard Wheater of Imperial College, Professor Paul Leonard, an environmental consultant and facilitator for the Natural Capital Initiative, and Robert Pendray, a physics student at Oxford University who bravely took on the experts.
After their initial presentations the speakers faced tough questioning from a Dragon's Den-style panel of experts, who probed deeper into their ideas and reasoning.
Among the ideas presented were a Global Water Partnership Fund to bring government, NGOs and industry together to safeguard water resources; and charging consumers a realistic price for the water they consume that reflects its true value and that would encourage wiser use of this precious resource.
Executive Vice-President of Earthwatch, Nigel Winser, told the audience at the Royal Geographical Society: "This is the ninth of our debates, which have had themes ranging from non-native, invasive species to last year's topic, the world's most irreplaceable species. Simon Maddrell is a worthy winner this year. Our debates all have one thing in common - the outcome is in no way predictable. They are primarily designed to communicate serious environmental issues in a fun and engaging way and they create an awareness of these issues which remains in people's minds for many years to come."
For the second consecutive year, award-winning broadcaster Andrea Catherwood chaired the debate. She said: "The appalling destruction and loss of life inflicted by tsunamis have quite rightly dominated the headlines in recent times. But another age-old scourge, drought, has afflicted several parts of the world since time immemorial, and has often assumed biblical proportions."
The annual Earthwatch debate is now a highlight of the conservation calendar. Earthwatch's lectures and debates form part of the charity's educational mission to engage people in the most pressing environmental challenges facing our planet today.
The debate will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 29 December 2009 and repeated on 3 January 2010.
The Earthwatch 2009 events programme is kindly supported by the Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa.
Dr Tom Le Quesne is Senior Policy Advisor in WWF's Freshwater Programme, and policy manager for WWF's component of the HSBC Climate Partnership. Tom works on water policy and sustainability issues across the WWF Network, including work in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Tom has been with WWF-UK for five years, where he has also focussed on issues including oil and gas development, and economics.
Professor Howard Wheater obtained a first class degree in Engineering Science from the University of Cambridge and worked for Rolls-Royce as a fluid mechanics specialist before undertaking a PhD in Hydrology at Bristol University and joining the staff of Imperial College in 1978. He holds the appointment of Professor of Hydrology and has taken on the role of Director of the new Imperial College Environment Forum.
Professor Paul Leonard is an environmental consultant, having specialised in the delivery of science-based evidence to meet policy needs, primarily in the aquatic environment. He has represented the UK at numerous international events related to the transport and fate of pollutants. His work has included science audits, advising on the adequacy of current operations and future needs at government laboratories and industry. He is a registered Expert Witness and council member of the UK Environmental Law Association.
Simon Maddrell is the Executive Director and entrepreneurial founder of Excellent Development, a UK-registered charity that currently supports innovative sustainable development projects in rural South East Kenya through its partner Excellent Development Kenya (EDK). EDK was founded by Simon along with Joshua Mukusya and Esther Ithau, both founder members of the Utooni Development Project. Utooni is a community-based organisation in Machakos that has been using soil and water conservation to create the potential for increased food production, incomes and health since 1978. It is this model that Excellent Development Kenya (EDK) is committed to spreading on a wider scale in South East Kenya.
Robert Pendray is a third-year physics student at Merton College, Oxford. He spent the summer working for a large pharmaceutical company in its environmental department, looking predominantly at water and climate change issues. Through this, he learned a lot and became interested in issues related to water.
John Burton is Chief Executive Officer of the World Land Trust, as well as being an author and broadcaster. He has more than 30 years experience in international conservation, including working with Friends of the Earth and 12 years as Chief Executive of Fauna & Flora International.
Rick Bauer is an engineering advisor with Oxfam GB. Rick provides technical and management support for Oxfam's emergency responses to disasters and conflicts. Specialising in water supply and shelter, he has been working with Oxfam since 1996. During this time, he has worked on over 40 humanitarian and development programmes in 23 countries. In his current position, Rick is Oxfam's Humanitarian Department lead on developing Oxfam's water policy.
Mark Shearer is a co-founder of Project Dirt - a networking website centred around people undertaking green projects. Project Dirt was started in April 2008 on a test site with five people and one project, in South London. It has now grown to over 1,500 members and 160 projects purely through word of mouth. Collaborations have already been established with Earthwatch, NESTA and Sustain and there are plans in the pipeline to soon take Project Dirt national and global.
Simon Maddrell, Executive Director of the charity Excellent Development was declared the winner of the ninth annual Earthwatch debate last night, November 19, at the Royal Geographical Society in London.