Feature: Chinese youth bags UN's prestigious award for promoting water quality


  • World
  • Tuesday, 15 Dec 2020

NAIROBI, Dec. 15 (Xinhua)-- Ren Xiaoyuan, a 29-year-old female Chinese environmentalist, is among seven winners of the 2020 UN Champions of the Earth Award thanks to her pioneering innovations to boost water quality in rural areas.

Ren, founder of MyH20, a digital platform that facilitates civic engagement to improve water quality and bridge access to the commodity in rural China, will benefit from mentorship and funding to scale up her work.

Ren is among youthful trailblazers drawn from all parts of the globe who were recognized by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) for injecting fresh vitality in the green and sustainability agenda.

"The MyH20 network and platform that Xiaoyuan Ren has pioneered addresses the root causes of deteriorating water quality whilst safeguarding water resources in underprivileged communities," said Joakim Harlin, the head of UNEP's Fresh Water Unit.

He said that UNEP has rallied behind innovations like MyH20 that aims to provide a lasting solution to water pollution and scarcity affecting rural communities in large swathes of the developing world.

Raised in Beijing, Ren developed an interest in green issues while in high school and later joined Roots and Shoots, a global youth conservation movement founded by British Primatologist Jane Goodall.

Ren, holder of a dual master's degrees in environmental engineering, technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, is devoted to help rural communities gain access to clean water.

"Imagine two glasses of water, both looking the same, but one is clean and one could make you sick. How do you choose?" posed Ren whose family lives outside Beijing.

"This is the dilemma facing my grandparents. We are setting out to change that. Water should not be a luxury item," she added.

Ren was inspired to provide solution to water quality challenges in rural China while conducting research in India where a database covering rural sanitation and quality of the commodity in all public wells is readily available.

A pilot survey conducted through MyH20 platform targeting rural communities in China found that 40 percent were concerned about the quality of drinking water but lacked ability to ascertain it while another 10 percent thought their water was clean while tests demonstrated the opposite.

The MyH20 platform that includes a mobile phone application is operated by a nationwide network of youthful volunteers who are trained on how to test water quality and log the results into the interactive platform.

Likewise, the volunteers also conduct water usage surveys, evaluate the demand for the commodity and the information is mapped to provide a clearer picture of the state of water across rural China.

The MyH20 mobile application is user-friendly and enables rural communities to obtain timely information about water quality as well as solutions that can be adopted to purify the commodity.

It also links rural residents with organizations and companies that specialize in purifying contaminated water sources like wells, rivers or streams.

Ren said that her overarching goal is to provide data-driven solutions to water quality challenges in rural China, improve human and environmental health.

"I will connect data-driven water resources and solutions to thousands of under-privileged communities across China, " said Ren, adding that MyH20 has covered 1,000 villages in 26 Chinese provinces.

Ren said that she is motivated to inspire her peers to take action and heal a planet already reeling from climate change, pollution and habitat loss.

"We work with students studying science, technology, engineering and medicine. They will go on to develop careers in these fields and create solutions to some of the environmental problems they have seen while working with us," said Ren.

She said that the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled data gathering volunteers to scale back on implementation of public works projects aimed at improving access to clean water in rural China.

Ren said she was optimistic her green stewardship will prevail despite the pandemic's shocks adding that she believes it dovetails with ambitious goals outlined in the UN Decade of Ecosystems Restoration 2021-2020.

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