Two men from the Netherlands have cycled some 30,000 kilometers from the icy plains of Alaska down to the majestic waters of Antarctica aboard bamboo bicycles. Their mission: to raise awareness about the global water crisis which affects one seventh of the world's population -- up to one billion people today do not have access to clean drinking water.
"We believe that everyone on this planet has the right to a basic and sustainable source of drinking water. It is the first step out of poverty. Water is life, literally and figuratively," says Michiel Roodenburg and Joost Notenboom.
After biking across 15 countries over the course of 20 months, their epic journey ends on Sunday when they return back from the Antarctic. They started cycling from above the Arctic Circle on July 4th, 2010. Since then, they have been through the desert plains of the Californian Baja, the rain forests of Central and South America, and finally onto the ice sheets of Antarctica.
'Cycle for Water' is the first attempt in history to make this pole to pole journey on bamboo bicycles. The two cyclists wanted to minimize their carbon footprint whilst demonstrating that the world's challenges can be overcome using sustainable solutions.
The duo decided to campaign for water after witnessing its shortages in both the Middle East and Africa. They were also partly inspired by polar explorer turned environmentalist Robert Swan who believes: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."
Robert Swan OBE is first person in history to walk to both the North and South Pole. It is fitting then that the two Dutch men made the last leg of their Antarctic journey with Swan on his annual expedition out to the white continent.
Their 'Cycle for Water' campaign highlights the fact that water is our most precious resource. As human beings, we are all made up of around 60 to 70 percent of it. Everyday in the U.S., the average person requires around 2 gallons of water to live.
According to Brian Richter of The Nature of Conservancy and University of Virginia, if a human being loses just one quart of water, they lose their ability to concentrate. If they lose two gallons, they will need to be hospitalized, and if they lose another one, they will die. So, three gallons of water is what separates us all from life and death.
In the future, some analysts believe that we will be waging wars over water. According to the National Geographic, "over 97 percent of the world's water is too salty to drink, another 2 percent is locked up in the world's ice caps and glaciers," leaving human beings with less than 1 percent for consumption.
In the words of Alexandra Cousteau from the National Geographic Emerging Explorer: "If you took all the water in the world and put it in a gallon jug, less than one teaspoon would be available to us." And in certain parts of the world, climate change is reducing the amount of water left on that teaspoon.
Last week, the United Nations warned that the Horn of Africa will suffer from a shorter rainy season this year. This forecast comes one year after the region suffered from a devastating famine following its worst drought in 60 years.
And it's not just this area of the world that is suffering from drought. Researchers in India have discovered that the country's annual monsoon is becoming less frequent and less intense. And over in California, officials last week announced that the state will only receive half of its water needs from its shrinking mountain snowcaps this year.
As Sandra Postel, founder of the Global Water Policy Project points out: "What's emerging is an interconnected web of risks, with the threads of water stress, food insecurity and rising population and consumption now magnified by extreme weather and climatic change."
Anyone who remembers the global food riots of 2007 and 2008 will recognize the huge potential for social and political unrest in the future if these issues are not resolved. Some analysts believe that higher food prices are partly to blame for the violent protests that rocked the Arab world last year.
As early as 1999, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) identified the water crisis and global warming as the two most pressing problems of our new millennium.
So, as Roodenburg and Notenboom end their epic 20 month journey this Sunday, may the rest of the world begins its long battle against the water crisis and its accompanying challenge of climate change. As Alexandra Cousteau points out: "A sustainable society will only come about through the accumulated actions of billions of individuals."
As global leaders prepare to gather for the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro this June, let's hope that they strike a new deal so that our planet, our home can look forward to a brighter future. In the words of Robert Swan: "I'm tired of the inconvenient truth. It's time for the convenient solution."
You can look back on 'Cycle for Water's' journey on Facebook here.
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