Water scarcity activist Mina Guli is running 200 marathons in a year to raise awareness

On International Women's Day, we chat to the founder of Thirst Foundation who wants to amplify the voices of people affected by the water crisis around the world

Mina Guli, founder and chief executive of Thirst Foundation, running marathon 123 of 200 in Jordan as part of the Run Blue campaign. Photo: Thirst Foundation
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To raise awareness of water scarcity, activist Mina Guli won't stop running.

She has been competing in marathons around the world — 190 to date — as part of the Run Blue campaign and will complete her 200th race in a single year ahead of the UN Water Conference on March 22 in New York, the first high-level global water conference since 1977.

Guli's journey has taken her everywhere from northern Kenya to the Dead Sea in Jordan, enabling her to witness first-hand the devastating impact of drought and climate change. As part of her campaign, she is hoping to raise awareness of and spur solutions on the world’s water crisis.

“The reason I decided to do 200 marathons in one year is because I'm concerned that we face the prospect of a lot of conversations and a lot of talking, but no action, at this UN conference,” Guli tells The National.

“I want to show the importance of not only taking action, but also our ability to step up and not only set, but also achieve big, bold, audacious, seemingly impossible goals that, when we set out to do them, we realise they are actually within our grasp.”

Guli, who is from Australia, has been personally affected by a shortage of water. She says experiencing 10 years of drought has made her aware of just how important water is, leading her to launch the Thirst Foundation in 2012. The non-profit organisation aims to take action by using global community events to raise awareness about water scarcity.

These include the annual World Water Run, World River Run and World Wetlands Run, which people can participate in through walking or running.

Through her campaign Sweat4Soap, meanwhile, every dedicated kilometre walked or run equals a bar of soap given to someone in need. Last year’s event resulted in more than 425,000 bars of soap being donated to the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Guli says she was awestruck when she learnt quite how many things are connected to clean water. “I did not always understand that water goes into every single thing we use, buy and consume every day, from the power that goes into charging the phone, to the lights overhead, to the fibers that go into the clothes we're wearing,” she says.

Once she realised how important water is to everyday life, she wanted to ensure everyone has access to it.

“It only takes running through a community that has had no water for a period of time to see the for-sale signs littering the streets, and to speak to people about the helplessness they feel having to rely on water being trucked in.

“To see the diminishing value, when shops, towns and entire cities start to close down because there's no water to sustain the population or the place's economic value — this is a really serious issue; it has serious implications,” she says.

“When I realised all of this, I started to think, for too long, water has been everything, but we've treated it as if it's nothing. That's got to change.”

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I started to think, for too long, water has been everything, but we've treated it as if it's nothing. That's got to change
Mina Guli, chief executive and founder of Thirst Foundation

In her travels around the world, Guli also has the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life. Through these interactions, she hopes to amplify their voices and tell their stories.

"I want to go to the front lines of the water crisis and lift up the voices of people who are traditionally marginalised in these conversations. I think it's important we give everybody an opportunity to be heard,” she says.

While completing 200 marathons is tough physically, there have also been other difficult moments.

“The hardest thing has been seeing every single day just how bad our water crisis truly is, not only for our planet, but also for our economy and for people across the world,” she says.

Despite this, she hopes for a world in which water scarcity is no longer an issue. The Thirst Foundation plans to support action leading up to 2030 when the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are due to be completed.

Guli in Vietnam with the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 6 flag. Photo: Kelvin Trautman

The 17 goals were established at the 2015 UN General Assembly and include climate action, zero hunger, no poverty and an availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Guli says in order for that goal to be reached within seven years, there is still plenty to be done.

“In water, we need to accelerate action by about four times; to work ourselves into oblivion by creating solutions and solving the global water crisis. I hope that in the next five to 10 years, we can be well on the path to making that happen.”

In the meantime, she believes everyone has a role to play in helping with the crisis. She suggests reducing the amount of water used at home by any means possible, as well as reusing and recycling clothing, and reducing food waste, which will help to cut back on water consumption overall.

"Every single drop counts," she says.

"As an individual, there are many ways to take action on water. But you can also push for change outside your house — by ensuring your company has a proper water strategy, by taking steps to improve the health of your local rivers, lakes and wetlands and, where you can, by voting for people who put water at the heart of their policies.

"I tell everyone, everywhere, that water should always be front of mind. No matter what you run in your lives — your company, your household or your daily decisions — run it blue."

Updated: March 08, 2023, 5:24 AM