40 Marathons, Seven Deserts and Seven Continents: One Woman’s Mission on Tackling Water Scarcity

Mina Guli Image - Professional

Mina Guli

Australian water advocate, Mina Guli, wins the category for the most challenging approach to raise awareness.  CEO and founder of Thirst, an education water conservation charity, will be running 40 marathons, across seven deserts, on seven continents.  This challenge is out of the ordinary but is necessary to raise awareness for an issue that is unfortunately overlooked – the scarcity of water.

Water is a big problem, with water demand continuing to outpace supply for a growing global population.  At an alarming rate, there will be a 40 per cent greater demand for water than supplies available in the next 15 years.

With staggering statistics, Mina will be running 1,040 miles (1,688 km) through the deserts in Spain, Jordan, Antarctica, Australia, South Africa, Chile and the United States to highlight the risks facing the next generation, and to showcase the simple solutions we can take in our daily lives to make a real difference.

I was fortunate enough to contact Mina, and ask her a few questions to understand the scope of her challenge for a cause close to her heart and life’s mission.

Verge: I will have to be honest, you will be running the equivalent of 40 marathons, how is that not intimidating? How do you plan and prepare for something like this?

Mina Guli: Running such a long way in such extreme climates is incredibly intimidating. There are times when I’m terrified, doubting myself, and in such immense amounts of pain I just want to give up. Every time that happens I think about the next generation and what it will mean to them to grow up in a world where there is 40% less water available than we need. Those are the kids that follow me, that send me messages of encouragement, and that helps me every day to do what I need to do to raise awareness about the water crisis and help to avert it.

Preparing for this has been exciting and inspiring as well as a bit of a reality check. We read about issues of water scarcity but until you are confronted by it on the ground, you don’t really understand the full implications of it. As we have been researching the routes that we will take through the deserts we have been talking to lots of local people about the issues they are dealing with every single day. It’s made the water crisis even more real for me.

As for the training – to be honest it’s not always easy. It has required sacrifice and absolute focus – it’s a tough thing to explain to friends that you’re sorry but you have to be home early because you have another 40+km to run tomorrow…again! But I have a terrific support team, and I have surrounded myself with a small group of amazing individuals who know when I need a push or just a hug. They’re my tribe and they help me get through every day.

Verge: How did you come up with this idea to campaign for your cause? 

MG: The idea of running a desert first came up when a friend of mine called and asked if I wanted to do the Marathon Des Sable – a 250km run across the Sahara that’s billed as one of the toughest foot races on the planet. At the time I had just started Thirst, the water conservation charity I am CEO of, and he thought it would be a good way to raise awareness of the water crisis. I did the run, and whilst I suffered enormously (I had a broken hip at the 7km mark and had to drag myself across the remaining 243km to finish the race), the idea worked – my messages about saving water reached hundreds of thousands of young people and inspired them also to believe that each one of them has the power to make a difference.

Verge: When did you first become aware of water scarcity and how did you start to take action?

MG: In 2010 I was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. Through this I was invited to moderate a conversation about water with Peter Brabeck (Chairman of Nestle). Until then I had been an expert on Climate Change – I thought I knew about water having grown up through a 10 year drought in Australia. But what Mr. Brabeck was speaking about was something I had never come across – Invisible Water – the water that is used to produce the things we use and consume every day. From jeans (11,000 litres of water) to coffee (140 litres) and even paper (10 Litres), most of the water we actually use in our daily lives is outside our homes. It’s this water that’s being used at an unsustainable rate – so fast in fact that by 2030 we will have a 40% difference between the demand for water and the supplies available.
This was a new way of thinking about water, and one I realized nobody was talking about. It seemed to me that to really shift the needle on water we needed to get people to understand their real water footprint. We needed to make invisible water visible, and to make saving water famous. I set up Thirst to do both of those things.

Verge: I know for many people who are passionate about a cause or issue, they take that passion and apply it to their everyday lives. How do you incorporate your ideals day to day as well as being a positive influence on others to follow your example?

MG:  Yes I think it’s really important to do what you suggest others do – particularly when you are speaking with young people. I am a vegetarian (which has a much lower water footprint than for meat eaters), catch public transport or walk (or run!) wherever possible, drink coffee in small quantities, and I’m careful about waste. I try to eat the food that’s on my plate (did you know we waste two-thirds of all the food on the planet – imagine how much water that takes!), avoid soft drinks, and try not to use too much paper. As I have said before, everything we use, buy and consume takes water – I want to make sure I live a life that as much as possible, protects and preserves our precious water resources.

Verge: How do you hope to educate future generations to be more aware of this issue through this challenge?

MG: I have done a lot of public speaking about this challenge, in particular to young people in schools. The sheer scale and enormity captures their attention and encourages them to ask “why” I am doing this. It’s a great opportunity to talk about water and the water crisis.

Verge: What advice can you give to anyone, young and old, to become involved in your cause and to spread awareness?

MG: Through this challenge, I am asking people young and old to do one thing each day to reduce their water footprint. We call this our “pledge”. Mine is to not eat meat, to drink one less coffee, to avoid printing on paper, and…to run across 7 deserts on 7 continents in just 7 weeks to raise awareness about the water crisis. I think that each one of us can do something (big or small) each day to do something to save water.

Verge: Why do you think this issue is not brought up more often in either the media or in public establishments?

MG: This is a question I often ask myself. Water has been ranked by the World Economic Forum as the number one risk facing society, and yet it’s not top of the agenda in the media or in public establishments. I suspect one of the reasons is that most people don’t know about the water crisis, and even those that do don’t understand their role in it. It’s one of the very important things I’m trying to change through this campaign. When we succeed, water will be covered and saving water will have become famous.

Mina Guli was speaking ahead of running 40 marathons, across seven deserts, on seven continents, in just seven weeks to raise awareness of water scarcity. For more information on her challenge, visit  www.thirstforwater.org and keep up to date via social media by following @thirst4water using #run4water.

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