Three young athletes run the Sahara in UN-backed bid to focus on global water crisis
Running over endless sands and camel tracks, past towering dunes, stark rock mountains and mud-brick mosques, through oases and nomad settlements, three young athletes are pounding their way across the Sahara Desert, covering the equivalent of two marathons a day in some of the harshest conditions on Earth in a United Nations-backed bid to raise awareness of the burgeoning global water crisis.
Charlie Engle of the United States, Ray Zahab of Canada and Kevin Lin from Taiwan, province of China, are now in the middle of their extreme quest somewhere in Mali after starting out from St. Louis in Senegal and passing through Mauritania on a trek that will take from 75 to 90 days, UN Development Programme (UNDP) spokesperson Irena Mihova told the UN News Service today.
They still have to cross Niger, Libya and Egypt where they are set to finish in Cairo sometime around the end of January in an odyssey that will the subject of a feature documentary film, “Running the Sahara,” directed by Oscar winner James Moll and narrated by Oscar winner Matt Damon, executive producer, with UNDP as co-producer.
“For the runners, water is a daily necessity,” Ms. Mihova said. “For the people of the Sahara, and throughout the developing world, it is a lifelong concern.”
This is made clear in the UNDP 2006 Human Development Report – Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis – which offers fresh new data on how many poor people go without water and sanitation, the inequality of access within and between nations, and how clean water affects child survival rates.
It calls on the Group of Eight (G-8) developed nations to spearhead an urgent global action plan to resolve the world’s growing water and sanitation crisis, which causes nearly 2 million child deaths every year and holds back countries’ development, especially in Africa.
Against the backdrop of the world-wide challenges the water crisis presents to development, the three men along the way are interacting with the people who live in the 3.5 million square miles of the Sahara, witnessing some of the work by UNDP and others in the region.
Among projects by the UNDP and Global Environment Facility, an independent financial organization, that the runners are visiting are water-management, governance and peace-building efforts in Mali and Niger, a conservation project for medicinal plants in Egypt, dam construction in Mauritania and a school in Senegal.
In addition to the 90-minute film, slated for international release in late 2007, a Web site tracks the progress of Engle, Zahab and Lin, providing information about the people and projects they visit. Web visitors can also pledge support on a per-mile basis for water projects through H2O Africa, the charitable component of Running the Sahara.