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UNLEASHing Sustainable Development Goals

Friday, January 12, 2018   (0 Comments)
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Eight WEF young professionals explore global issues


by Fidan Karimova


This year, an inaugural event, called UNLEASH (, brought together more than 1000 talents from around the world to tackle the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) sponsored eight young water professionals to attend the in Denmark to represent the North American water sector.

After several days of a facilitated innovation process, conceiving solutions, and testing them with leading experts and companies, one the WEF-sponsored professionals, Fidan Karimova, was selected to receive the Most Visionary award. Ashton Kutcher presented this award in front of thousands of attendees, which included the Princess of Denmark.


The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) originated in 2016 to continue the work of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals MDGs that originated in 2000 with 189 countries signing on to seek their achievement by 2015. Between the two lists, the number of goals increased from eight to seventeen, adding areas that were not previously covered. The SDGs is the largest global partnership agreement and development plan for the planet ever made, according to the UNLEASH website. SDG 6 seek to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”


WEF’s role and contributions

Although North American countries are not automatically associated with vulnerable water sources, the Flint, Mich., water crisis in the U.S. and radioactive particles in northwestern Ontario in Canada prove that no region is immune to water issues. The Water Environment Foundation (WEF) was established exactly for this reason — to protect public health and the environment through increasing the awareness of the affect and value of water. WEF supports young professionals in the water industry and encourages them to take on more proactive roles in the industry.


Once in Denmark, the eight WEF-sponsored participants mixed with the other 1000 participants and were placed in groups with people from throughout the world. For example, Karimova’s team consisted of four men from Mexico, Denmark, Canada, Brazil. They named their team OTWOH, which is a play on words — H2O reversed into O2H/OTWOH. It stands for Ocean Plastics to Heat.


This team, led by Karimova, proposed an alternate source of energy at water resource recovery facilities. The proposal calls for harvesting pollutant plastics from the ocean and using them as a fuel source via the process of gasification. The idea originated generated with Karimova’s organization, Global Water Girls (, and the UNLEASH UNLEASH group developed it further.


The group is continuing to work on the project after the UNLEASH event and hopes the solution will eventually help disrupt the waste and energy industries.


Why seek the SGDs?

Water and sanitation are key to thriving communities in promoting the growth of future healthy generations and access to a cleaner environment. This goal gains even more importance when taking into consideration that 1.8 billion people globally use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated and 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines, according to the UN. However, since 1990, 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources; so progress has been made and needs to continue.


To quote Leonardo Da Vinci, “water is the driver of nature.” Once we learn to better take care of our water systems, we will be able to meet many of the other SDG goals. The UNLEASH event helped highlight, once again, that SDG6 is at the core of all the other issues. If addressed, it could help simultaneously meet many other SDGs.


Fidan Karimova is water technology collaboration manager at the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (Alexandria, Va.).

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