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Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to Raise Awareness about Safe Water

Monday was World Water Day, an annual event to raise awareness about the need for safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. This year’s theme is Clean Water for a Healthy World.

In Washington, World Water Day events continued into Tuesday, as organizers spread the word that “one out of every six people lacks safe drinking water and two out of every five people lack adequate sanitation.”

It’s personal

Among those taking part was Grammy-nominated musician Kenna, who’s now an American citizen.

“It’s personal for me because of my dad. My father, as a child, had been exposed to water borne illness in Ethiopia, where I was born,” he says.

Kenna says his father’s brother died of water-borne disease, as did friends and neighbors in Ethiopia.

“It made me study the water crisis as a whole and learning that a billion people don’t have clean water, that 50 percent of the reason why people go to hospitals in the world is because of water-borne illnesses and the many different statistics on children dying,” he says.

Kenna says water-borne disease kills more children than HIV, malaria and TB combined.

Water, water everywhere?

“I think in general we take it for granted. We have it in our tap. We can take showers in the morning. We can drink water. We can buy water at our local stores in bottles,” he says.

However, it’s different in poor countries.

“The abundance of it in our lives makes it something that we don’t necessarily consider in the lives of people around the world,” he says.

Water is now becoming an issue here in the United States, he says. For example, last year, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered action to deal with the state’s third consecutive year of drought. He said California must prepare for a possible 4th, 5th and 6th year of drought.

Kenna says the U.S. city where he was raised, Virginia Beach, Virginia, relies on a lake for water.

“There are many, many reasons why we need to focus on (water) as an integral part of our livelihood as human beings and the livelihood of our brothers and sisters around the world,” he says.

Climbing to raise awareness

Kenna organized a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to draw attention to water and climate issues. It was called the Summit on the Summit and became the subject of a documentary broadcast on MTV.

“I had climbed Kilimanjaro five years ago and I didn’t make it to the top. So, I had a personal vendetta against the mountain. I thought it might be an interesting way to combine extreme…risk and the idea of reaching the top of one’s life’s mountain,” he says.

Mount Kilimanjaro had been known for its snowy cap. But with warming temperatures, the snow is receding and scientists say it may eventually disappear.

Many people took part in the climb, including entertainers, environmentalists and others.

“We had 45 climbers, 16 guides, 248 porters. And we went at it and we all reached the top of the mountain, which is amazing. But more importantly, we were able to raise awareness. And I think that’s the key to the whole project for us. It was just trying to make noise enough for the world to hear,” he says.

Before the climb, participants visited nearby villages and saw firsthand the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene.