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Lana Mazahreh: 3 thoughtful ways to conserve water

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According to the UN, nearly one in three people worldwide live in a country facing a water crisis, and less than five percent of the world lives in a country that has more water today than it did 20 years ago. Lana Mazahreh grew up in Jordan, a state that has experienced absolute water scarcity since 1973, where she learned how to conserve water as soon as she was old enough to learn how to write her name. In this practical talk, she shares three lessons from water-poor countries on how to save water and address what's fast becoming a global crisis.

- Water conservation activist
BCG’s Lana Mazahreh wants individuals, companies and countries to take action against the fast-growing water crisis. Full bio

In March 2017,
00:13
the mayor of Cape Town officially
declared Cape Town a local disaster,
00:15
as it had less than four months
left of usable water.
00:20
Residents were restricted to 100 liters
of water per person, per day.
00:24
But what does that really mean?
00:29
With 100 liters of water per day,
00:31
you can take a five-minute shower,
00:33
wash your face twice
00:36
and probably flush the toilet
about five times.
00:38
You still didn't brush your teeth,
00:41
you didn't do laundry,
00:44
and you definitely
didn't water your plants.
00:46
You, unfortunately, didn't wash your hands
after those five toilet flushes.
00:50
And you didn't even take a sip of water.
00:55
The mayor described this as that it means
01:00
a new relationship with water.
01:03
Today, seven months later,
01:07
I can share two things
about my second home with you.
01:08
First: Cape Town hasn't run out
of water just yet.
01:11
But as of September 3rd,
01:15
the hundred-liter limit
dropped to 87 liters.
01:17
The mayor defined the city's new normal
as one of permanent drought.
01:21
Second:
01:26
what's happening in Cape Town
is pretty much coming to many other cities
01:28
and countries in the world.
01:31
According to the Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations,
01:33
excluding countries
that we don't have data for,
01:37
less than five percent
of the world's population
01:40
is living in a country that has more water
today than it did 20 years ago.
01:43
Everyone else is living in a country
that has less water today.
01:49
And nearly one out of three
are living in a country
01:53
that is facing a water crisis.
01:56
I grew up in Jordan,
01:59
a water-poor country that has experienced
absolute water scarcity since 1973.
02:02
And still, in 2017,
02:08
only 10 countries in the world
have less water than Jordan.
02:10
So dealing with a lack of water
is quite ingrained in my soul.
02:14
As soon as I was old enough
to learn how to write my name,
02:18
I also learned that I need
to conserve water.
02:22
My parents would constantly remind
my siblings and I to close the tap
02:25
when we brushed our teeth.
02:29
We used to fill balloons with flour
instead of water when we played.
02:31
It's just as much fun, though.
02:36
(Laughter)
02:37
And a few years ago,
02:38
when my friends and I were dared
to do the Ice Bucket Challenge,
02:40
we did that with sand.
02:44
(Laughter)
02:45
And you might think that,
you know, that's easy,
02:47
sand is not ice cold.
02:50
I promise you, sand goes everywhere,
02:51
and it took ages to get rid of it.
02:54
But what perhaps I didn't realize
02:57
as I played with flour
balloons as a child,
02:59
and as I poured sand
on my head as an adult,
03:02
is that some of the techniques
that seem second nature to me
03:05
and to others who live in dry countries
03:09
might help us all address
what is fast becoming a global crisis.
03:11
I wish to share three lessons today,
03:18
three lessons from water-poor countries
03:22
and how they survived and even thrived
despite their water crisis.
03:24
Lesson one:
03:30
tell people how much water
they really have.
03:31
In order to solve a problem,
03:35
we need to acknowledge that we have one.
03:36
And when it comes to water,
03:39
people can easily turn a blind eye,
03:40
pretending that since water
is coming out of the tap now,
03:43
everything will be fine forever.
03:45
But some smart, drought-affected countries
03:48
have adopted simple, innovative measures
03:51
to make sure their citizens,
their communities and their companies
03:54
know just how dry their countries are.
03:58
When I was in Cape Town earlier this year,
04:02
I saw this electronic billboard
on the freeway,
04:04
indicating how much water
the city had left.
04:07
This is an idea they may well have
borrowed from Australia
04:11
when it faced one of the worst droughts
of the country's history
04:13
from 1997 to 2009.
04:17
Water levels in Melbourne
dropped to a very low capacity
04:21
of almost 26 percent.
04:24
But the city didn't yell at people.
04:27
It didn't plead with them
not to use water.
04:30
They used electronic billboards
to flash available levels of water
04:33
to all citizens across the city.
04:37
They were honestly telling people
how much water they really have,
04:40
and letting them take
responsibility for themselves.
04:43
By the end of the drought,
this created such a sense of urgency
04:47
as well as a sense of community.
04:51
Nearly one out of three citizens
in Melbourne had invested
04:53
in installing rainwater holding tanks
for their own households.
04:57
Actions that citizens took didn't stop
at installing those tanks.
05:01
With help from the city,
05:06
they were able to do something
even more impactful.
05:07
Taking me to lesson two:
05:11
empower people to save water.
05:14
Melbourne wanted people
to spend less water in their homes.
05:18
And one way to do that is to spend
less time in the shower.
05:22
However, interviews revealed
that some people, women in particular,
05:26
weren't keen on saving water that way.
05:30
Some of them honestly said,
05:33
"The shower is not just to clean up.
05:35
It's my sanctuary.
05:37
It's a space I go to relax,
not just clean up."
05:39
So the city started offering
water-efficient showerheads for free.
05:43
And then, now some people complained
that the showerheads looked ugly
05:47
or didn't suit their bathrooms.
05:51
So what I like to call
"The Showerhead Team"
05:53
developed a small water-flow regulator
05:56
that can be fitted
into existing showerheads.
05:58
And although showerhead beauty
doesn't matter much to me,
06:03
I loved how the team didn't give up
06:06
and instead came up with
a simple, unique solution
06:08
to empower people to save water.
06:11
Within a span of four years,
06:14
more than 460,000
showerheads were replaced.
06:16
When the small regulator was introduced,
06:21
more than 100,000 orders
of that were done.
06:24
Melbourne succeeded in reducing
the water demands per capita
06:28
by 50 percent.
06:31
In the United Arab Emirates,
06:33
the second-most water-scarce
country in the world,
06:35
officials designed what they called
the "Business Heroes Toolkit" in 2010.
06:39
The aim was to motivate
and empower businesses
06:45
to reduce water and energy consumption.
06:47
The toolkit practically taught companies
06:51
how to measure their existing
water-consumption levels
06:53
and consisted of tips
to help them reduce those levels.
06:56
And it worked.
07:00
Hundreds of organizations
downloaded the toolkit.
07:01
And several of them joined
07:05
what they called
the "Corporate Heroes Network,"
07:06
where companies can voluntarily
take on a challenge
07:10
to reduce their water-consumption
levels to preset targets
07:13
within a period of one year.
07:16
Companies which completed the challenge
saved on average 35 percent of water.
07:19
And one company, for example,
07:25
implemented as many water-saving tips
as they could in their office space.
07:27
They replaced their toilet-flushing
techniques, taps, showerheads --
07:32
you name it.
07:37
If it saved water, they replaced it,
07:38
eventually reducing their employees'
water consumption by half.
07:40
Empowering individuals and companies
to save water is so critical,
07:45
yet not sufficient.
07:50
Countries need to look
beyond the status quo
07:53
and implement country-level actions
07:56
to save water.
07:59
Taking me to lesson three:
08:01
look below the surface.
08:03
Water savings can come
from unexpected places.
08:06
Singapore is the eighth most
water-scarce country in the world.
08:10
It depends on imported water
for almost 60 percent of its water needs.
08:14
It's also a very small island.
08:20
As such, it needs to make use
of as much space as possible
08:22
to catch rainfall.
08:26
So in 2008,
08:29
they built the Marina Barrage.
08:30
It's the first-ever urban water reservoir
built in the middle of the city-state.
08:32
It's the largest
water catchment in the country,
08:38
almost one-sixth the size of Singapore.
08:41
What's so amazing about the Marina Barrage
08:44
is that it has been built to make
the maximum use of its large size
08:46
and its unexpected yet important location.
08:51
It brings three valuable
benefits to the country:
08:55
it has boosted Singapore's water
supply by 10 percent;
08:58
it protects low areas
around it from floods
09:03
because of its connection to the sea;
09:06
and, as you can see,
09:09
it acts as a beautiful
lifestyle attraction,
09:10
hosting several events,
09:12
from art exhibitions to music festivals,
09:14
attracting joggers, bikers, tourists
all around that area.
09:17
Now, not all initiatives
need to be stunning
09:23
or even visible.
09:25
My first home, Jordan, realized
that agriculture is consuming
09:27
the majority of its fresh water.
09:31
They really wanted to encourage farmers
09:35
to focus on growing
low water-intensive crops.
09:37
To achieve that,
09:42
the local agriculture is increasing
its focus on date palms and grapevines.
09:43
Those two are much more tolerant
to drought conditions
09:49
than many other fruits and vegetables,
09:52
and at the same time,
09:54
they are considered high-value crops,
both locally and internationally.
09:56
Locals in Namibia,
10:02
one of the most arid countries
in Southern Africa,
10:05
have been drinking
recycled water since 1968.
10:08
Now, you may tell me
many countries recycle water.
10:13
I would say yes.
10:16
But very few use it for drinking purposes,
10:18
mostly because people
don't like the thought
10:21
of water that was in their toilets
going to their taps.
10:24
But Namibia could not afford
to think that way.
10:28
They looked below the surface
to save water.
10:31
They are now a great example
10:35
of how, when countries purify waste water
to drinking standards,
10:37
they can ease their water shortages,
10:41
and in Namibia's case,
10:44
provide drinking water for more
than 300,000 citizens in its capital city.
10:46
As more countries which used
to be more water rich
10:52
are becoming water scarce,
10:56
I say we don't need to reinvent the wheel.
10:59
If we just look at what
water-poor countries have done,
11:03
the solutions are out there.
11:07
Now it's really just up to all of us
11:10
to take action.
11:13
Thank you.
11:15
(Applause)
11:16

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About the speaker:

Lana Mazahreh - Water conservation activist
BCG’s Lana Mazahreh wants individuals, companies and countries to take action against the fast-growing water crisis.

Why you should listen

Lana Mazahreh is a Project Leader at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Based in Johannesburg, she also spent a year working in BCG's office in Dubai. Mazahreh is passionate about social impact and has been involved in projects spanning a wide range of topics including the environment, economic development, employment, education and social care. She worked closely with the World Wide Fund for Nature on the water crisis in South Africa, where her passion for water grew even more.

Outside of her client work, Mazahreh co-leads BCG in Johannesburg's Women@BCG Initiative and the office's social impact strategy. Prior to BCG, Mazahreh worked in the Technology Services Advisory team with Deloitte in the Middle East practice. She holds an MBA degree from INSEAD Business School, across its 3 campuses in France, Abu Dhabi & Singapore, and she holds a B.Sc. degree in Business Information Systems from Jordan. She loves practicing and teaching yoga, enjoys spending time in nature and is always eager to experience new countries and cultures.

More profile about the speaker
Lana Mazahreh | Speaker | TED.com