Sustainable Water for Sustainable Communities

Aisha Azimi, Higher Education Communications Intern

Two-thirds of the world’s population is at risk of facing water shortages by 2025, scientists say. Lakes and rivers fill with pollutants as water’s natural filtration system, including forests and grasslands, are destroyed. Organizations including the Nature Conservancy are working to conserve vital lands that “filter and regulate water supply” through investments from large businesses and government organizations. The initiative is called Water Funds.

In 2014, the Coca-Cola Foundation pledged nearly $7.4 million “to replenish 6.9 million cubic meters of water in watersheds across seven countries” in Latin America and the Caribbean through their Refreshing Our Community initiative. Refreshing Our Community prioritizes access to clean water, water conservation, and recycling. One program, based in Colombia, rallied 250 members of the indigenous Wayúu people to create their own water and sanitation association. The association created wells, pumps, filtration systems, windmills, solar panels, and compost latrines for the community.

Goal: By 2020, the Coca Cola Foundation will safely return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to what we use in our finished beverages and their production.

So, why does the multi-billion dollar beverage company want to reduce its water waste ‘footprint’? The answer is simple – investing in water makes Coca-Cola’s business possible. Water is the number one ingredient in most of their beverages and is critical to the production process. The funding efforts help Coca-Cola to reach its 2020 goal of replenishing 100 percent of the water it uses  in its finished beverages. 

Bridging 100,000 Strong in the Americas’ and Coca-Cola’s Goals

Following its goals, the Coca-Cola Foundation is currently sponsoring a grant competition for the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, which Partners of the Americas implements. 100,000 Strong in the Americas provides grants to higher education institutions (HEIs) in the Western Hemisphere to create study abroad partnerships with one other under a specific theme. The Coca-Cola Foundation round’s theme is environmental sciences with an emphasis on water. Interested HEIs can find more information here and have until August 14th, 2016 at 11:59PM EST to submit proposals online. 

Colombia and New Mexico: Study Abroad Exchange Examines the Effect of Drought on Crops

Universidad de La Salle (La Salle), in partnership with New Mexico State University (NMSU), received a 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant sponsored by Santander Bank, N.A. for their water agriculture program. In 2015, eight NMSU students and faculty traveled to Bogotá, Colombia, and in exchange eight La Salle students and faculty came to the U.S. on a research-based trip addressing the effect of drought on crops. NSMU students took a soil irrigation class while in Colombia that focused on measuring water flow through makeshift drips and spray irrigation systems, while La Salle students studied plant physiology in the U.S. The program’s success was recognized by multiple media outlets, including CBS 4 Local, KFOX 14, and the Albuquerque Journal. 

Brazil and Massachusetts: Comparing Coastal Systems

In 2015, University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston), in partnership with Universidade Tiradentes (Brazil) received a grant sponsored by the ExxonMobil Foundation. The two universities’ geology programs created a partnership that is increasing students’ understanding of the development and evolution of coastal systems. The program is designed to be an immersive, research-based, and collaborative experience comparing the Brazilian and U.S. coasts. The ongoing excursion, which started this past June, will enable students at both institutions to impact their communities’ understanding of water sources for years to come. 

Innovative programs such as these represent the types of study abroad opportunities that make the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund a success. The programs are essential to cultivating sustainable partnerships across the Americas, benefiting both host institutions and communities through research and service projects. The connections students make surpass language and cultural barriers, equipping them with the international experience needed to compete in today’s globalized workforce. 

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