31 Who’s Minding the Planet? HEADLINE HURRICANE ZONE Answering the call Access to clean running water was one of the most urgent challenges facing Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Maria. Without a safe drinking water supply, families resorted to drawing water from wells polluted with industrial chemicals, or from streams contaminated with sewage and dead animals. Although Maria had moved on, serious risks to the health of communities across the island remained. Responding to the crisis, the non-profit organization, Planet Water Foundation, partnered with Xylem to send a team of volunteers to Puerto Rico. Their mission was to build water towers in some of the most damaged places on the island – technology that would bring safe, clean water to communities most in need. Flying into the unknown Arriving in Puerto Rico, the six team members who had quickly gathered tools to join the mission knew little about what to expect. Some had volunteered in disaster-hit areas previously. Most hadn’t. All were immediately struck by the extent of the devastation. Thousands of buildings - including homes, hospitals and schools - completely destroyed. Collapsed bridges. Huge swathes of precious agricultural land flooded. And an alarming scarcity of water, food, gas and electricity. As Nate Warren, a Sales Engineer with Xylem, recalls, “A local man explained to us that to run his generator at home, for just two hours a day, it would cost him $450 a month. To me that’s staggering. The fact that these people, whose livelihoods had been completely wiped out, their crops decimated, now had to come up with an extra $450 a month just to keep the electricity on for two hours a day, was inconceivable.” Resilience in the face of adversity In spite of the conditions, Nate and the team were humbled by the resilience of the stricken communities from the moment they arrived in Puerto Rico. Even in the face of an estimated $100 billion of damage, their determination to rebuild never wavered. “Something really struck me at the schools we visited. Even though there was no running drinking water or electricity, the teachers were working so hard to keep life normal and have fun with the children. All of the kids that still had their uniforms wore them. Everybody was doing the best they could to keep up day-to-day life even though they were going without.” Something else that the team noticed was just how communities rallied together while they waited on aid - people left with nothing found the time to help others in need. In one mountainous community, where hundreds were trapped in their homes, Senior Application Engineer, Hunter Powell, describes how heartening it was to see a group of young local people take it upon themselves to cook free lunches for up to 400 people every day, using only camping equipment. “They cooked rice, beans and meat, whatever they could for people. It was truly eye-opening to see how they banded together.” Planet Water works in some of the most challenging conditions across the globe, helping to bring lifesaving supplies of clean water to communities in need. The organization’s goal is to highlight the issue of water security and spark conversation about sustainable water management, combining the installation of water technologies with education to effect long-term change in water-scarce communities. In 2018, Planet Water will complete its 1,000th project, representing a milestone of 1 million people who have benefitted from the organization’s work. These efforts are heavily reliant on funding from private sector organizations such as Xylem, a long-standing Planet Water partner. Through the Puerto Rico mission and other similar initiatives, Xylem and Planet Water have positively impacted the lives of close to 300,000 people, providing them with clean water for a generation, fueled by AquaTowers. As always, much work has yet to be done to support communities impacted by water scarcity. Every financial contribution – big and small – can help save lives. If you wish to donate to the cause, you can do so here: planet-water.org