Freshwater is essential to both the human and natural world. Water powers cities, supports ecosystems and sustains virtually all forms of life. Every year on World Water Day, March 22, the world celebrates this vital natural resource.
Established by the United Nations in 1993, the holiday promotes issues related to freshwater resources and encourages people around the world to take action. A different theme is selected each year to focus on different issues related to freshwater resources. In 2016, the theme was “water and jobs.” This year, the theme is “wastewater,” an issue especially relevant to Louisiana.
According to Tulane Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Professor Hank Bart, wastewater in many bodies of water in the U.S., including the Mississippi River, and the world, pose health risks.
“… The Mississippi River … receives quite a high volume of discharges from various municipal wastewater treatment facilities,” Bart said.
Waterborne diseases are the world’s leading cause of death. The World Health Organization estimates water-related illnesses claim 3.4 million people annually. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries, which often lack the wastewater facilities necessary to kill the bacteria and parasites in fecal matter that cause diseases.
“Globally, [wastewater is] an even bigger problem because water’s not being treated to the extent that it’s being treated here,” Bart said. “It doesn’t go through all the different stages of treatment, particularly in developing counties, that it’s being treated here.”
One New Orleans entrepreneur, Anika Ofori, the founder of Nana Afia’s Art Expo, has found a cheap, sustainable alternative. She plans to use ceramic water filters to provide people in Ghana with safe drinking water. On March 22, as part of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, Ofori will present her ceramic water filters and showcase a sample water kiosk to the public.
Ofori’s company, which sells products from artisans living in both New Orleans and Ghana, has already helped stimulate the economy in Ghana. Products include traditional African clothing, soap and shampoo and original works of art.
“My social entrepreneurship theory is that cultural arts can be a sustainable development tool for communities to use resources that they already have,” Ofori said.
Ofori believes that most companies focus on profit without seriously taking into account their social and environmental impact. With her company, she hopes to inspire young entrepreneurs to follow her lead, even if it means going against the status quo.
“It’s important that those of us that are inspired to make a living making an impact on the world to realize that that’s flowing against the stream.”