Winners of 2019 Zayed Sustainability Prize announced

Winners awarded Dh2.2 million each to breathe life into their sustainability projects

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An organisation that fortifies flour with nutrients in a bid to tackle malnutrition in East Africa and a project to harvest spring water are among this year's winners of the Zayed Sustainability Prize.

Winners of each of the prize's five categories – health, food, water, energy and global high schools – were announced on Monday, the opening day of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

They walk away with Dh2.2 million each to breathe life into their sustainability projects.

Dr Laura Stachel, co-founder and executive director of We Care Solar, won the health prize for her solar suitcase, a power device providing vital services in maternity wards cut off from the national grid in developing countries.

“I first saw this problem existed in Nigeria and I could not turn my back on it,” said Dr Stachel, an American obstetrician and gynaecologist.

“I saw women with serious complications, having seizures and giving birth in the dark.

“I was a physician studying public health and had no idea how bad the situation was, with no one championing the cause.”

Dr Stachel went to Nigeria to study why so many women were not only dying at home during childbirth, but also in hospitals.

One hospital was doing 150 deliveries a month, with three of those women dying while giving birth.

In those communities, women faced a 1 in 13 chance of dying during their reproductive years due to complications from pregnancy.

“I realised the hospital did not have electricity for more than 12 hours a day so it was not able to have a refrigerated blood bank.

“Lights would go out during a c-section procedure and incubators donated by other countries were being used as desks as there was no power.”

It is a familiar scene across rural Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.

Dr Stachel worked with her husband, a solar power educator, to develop the device.

It can power up to six medical grade LED lights, has two twelve-volt plug sockets and USB ports.

It costs just $3,000 but can potentially save hundreds of lives, with a battery lasting about five years.

It can also power a foetal Doppler to monitor a baby’s heart rate. Communities are being trained how to use the devices, maintain them and make repairs should they stop working.

“These educational programmes to become solar installers are hugely important,” said Dr Stachel, who was a prize finalist in 2018.

“You can’t just drop gadgets into health centres, you need to provide holistic systems to support them.

“This is one lesson learned from previous mistakes.”

Sanku, the winner in the prize's food category, is a project in Tanzania that addresses malnutrition in mothers and children by providing sustainable food solutions.

A woman collects flour that has been fortified with nutrients using a machine provided by Sanku, a non profit organisation that works to combat malnutrition East African countries. Courtesy Zayed Sustainability Prize

Bboxx in Rwanda offers pay-as-you-go solar power for people living off the national grid. Winner of the energy category, it helps to develop education, clean energy and make rural communities more sustainable.

Projects providing safe access to clean and affordable drinking water was another new category for the 2019 prize.

That award went to Ecosoftt, a project in India that develops ways to harvest spring water and recycle waste.

The Singapore company has used innovation to help rural communities effectively re-use waste water.

“This can be used in homes, schools, hotels and villages,” said Marcus Lim, co-founder and managing director.

“We enable them to collect rainwater and make it safe to use. It has been trialled all over the world, including India - which is the biggest market where there is huge demand.

“We have been limited by our own resources, so hopefully the prize will help us to expand the idea to the next level.

“Our idea is to reduce the size of the pipework required to make It cheaper and more efficient to bring recycled water into communities.”

The Global High Schools category has inspired the youngest minds over the last six years to come up with sustainable solutions in their school environment.

Split into six geographic locations, a winner was chosen for each on Monday.

The African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa won the prize for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Wuntia Gomda, 18, a Ghanan pupil at the ALA worked on the living machine project, a wetlands water filtration system that coverts grey water from the school to be used to irrigate crops on campus.

“We have a farm, but we are yet to implement the living machine, the prize will help us to move ahead with the next stage of the project,” he said.

“It is natural and sustainable, and cleans the water without using any chemicals so it is safe to use.”

Jesse Forrester, a Kenyan pupil, 20, at the ALA, was inspired by Sir Richard Branson to become an entrepreneur in global sustainability projects.

“Sustainable mass transport systems will change Africa — that is something I would very much like to be involved in the future," he said.

“Winning this award is great for the school and shows the commitment from the UAE to supporting sustainable projects.”

American School in Dubai wins the Zayed Sustainability Prize in the Global High Schools category for the Mena region. Courtesy Zayed Sustainability Prize

Other winners were The Impact School in Guatemala for the Americas category.

The school’s work was awarded for developing a sustainable farming learning environment for young girls.

The projects evaluated on three criteria; their impact on people’s lives, innovation to bring transformative change and inspiration, with the potential to develop ideas into bigger projects.

In the Mena region, the American School of Dubai won the prize for developing an industrial composter and a data board to monitor energy use.

Gymnasium Goethae school in Tajikistan won its category for developing a greenhouse and sustainable garden to provide produce for the school kitchen.

And Indian school SECMOL won the South Asian category for its project work using solar power and sustainable growing to become 23 per cent self-sufficient, helping 20,000 disadvantage people in the area.

Indian school SECMOL uses solar power and sustainable energy to help 20,000 disadvantage people in the area.. Courtesy Zayed Sustainability Prize

The final award winner for the GHS category was Muntinlupa National High School in the Philippines. Students there are set sustainability goals to introduce into the school and wider community by cultivating green algae for biofuel and to create sustainable products.

Maria Regaele Olarte, a researcher at the school, said the prize will help the school achieve its ambition of cultivating a green algae micro-farm.

“Our school has been doing lots of research into converting the algae into biofuel, as our country is in an energy crisis and this could provide a valuable power source,” she said.

“We want the school to be off-grid in the future, and become self-sustainable because of these biofuels.

“It can also be used to develop products that can then be sold, as a highly nutritious super food and also in medicine.

“Our school has become a living laboratory.”