China is one of the largest countries in the world —a land full of wonders and advancements. The country hosts almost a fifth of the entire world population but when it comes to fresh water, it only holds 7% of it. Things are bad in Northern China where the population is high but water resources are low. While southern China has adequate lakes and ponds, they are not properly sanitized to be used as drinking water. All of these add up to China’s current situation where fresh sanitized drinking water is a luxury and a privilege.
While there are numerous organizations willing to lend a helping hand, the lack of data and perception has been a big barrier to supplying clean water in all parts of the country. This is when MyH2O's journey begin.
Photo from MyH2O
Founder and director Xiaoyuan “Charlene” Ren got the idea of MyH2O from a class on Innovation in Water and Sanitation while she was a first year Tata Fellow during her graduate studies at MIT. While delving into water projects and eventually focusing on her roots in China, she saw the lack of a proper system. A lot of decisions there are unguided because of shortage of data, and there is a lack of necessary information to make a collaborative database which could support the community. These shortcomings raised questions, which eventually developed into one of the most professional online crowdsourcing networks in China, MyH2O.
MyH2O (myH2O.org) started its journey in 2014 to raise awareness of the importance of sanitized water and the diseases and risks it can prevent. This non-profit organization fights the problem of data shortages and mapping. The growing network is full of professionals who have a vision to collect water quality information and surveys and eventually aid in providing the right resources to those in need.
MyH2O has received support from National Geographic Air and Water Conservation Fund and Alibaba Foundation, and has also received the 2016 Echoing Green Fellowship.
Photo from MyH2O
MyH2O aims to successfully collect data points across semi-rural and rural China to be able to provide water solutions. It creates a nationwide water testing network and showcases the information and data on a platform that is easily accessible to the general public. With the data in hand, it becomes easier to connect those with solutions to the ones in need of them. While they sometimes reach out to other organizations to disseminate their data, they also showcase information from other organizations. The more data is made available, the faster impacts are created.
A Long Line of Challenges
Their first challenge was acceptance. The whole idea of MyH2O was not fully accepted by rural China. While it is very crucial understanding the risks related with contaminated water, it is also very sensitive. It was also very easy to misunderstand and misinterpret information by those who do not have the proper knowledge.
Another challenge was creating impact. MyH2O’s vision is to help link solutions and organizations to the core of the problem and make the chain come together.
People not responding to or accepting help was also a challenge. There have been cases of people knowingly consuming impure water, but not accepting it for they will be looked down upon if people ever found out. Insufficient help has also been a cause, where farmers have accepted clean water for their animals first, and not their own families, given that the animals bear income.
According to Ren, it is true that simply the data itself is not enough to create an impact, but it is so critical to the appropriate solutions. Without the data, no organization can work either. So it has to be the perfect balance of expertise and data in order to lead to solutions.
Photo from MyH2O
MyH2O sees itself not only as data providers, but as solution connectors. There are plenty organizations. There are those dealing with water arsenic levels and there are those working for sanitation and other issues. The problem is that these organizations do not always reach the places where the issues lie.
MyH2O’s goal is to connect organizations that have the proper resources and understanding of water, to these data and information. Once areas are located and marked, it is only a matter of time before help arrives. So MyH2O does not only provide information, but also helps to use the data and implement solutions.
MyH2O trains the locals and school children every season so they can perform water testing themselves. They are taught to use professional tools used for water mapping. This also helps the locals see for themselves the impurity of water which they could not see with the naked eye.
Photo from MyH2O
The MyH2O network consists of over 30 teams, who have covered around 2000 water sources in 300-400 villages in China. The students trained through this program are also considered a major impact, for they can take these knowledge and techniques and further improve the country’s future water scenario.
Businesses treating water qualities or providing water purification products are also benefited since they can know where exactly to aim their products and where to put their efforts and funds.
“We want to do this. We want to hold together all the people and put their visions on water sanitation out there. They can be an artist or a doctor or a social scientist. We want this correlation, to make these stories and data available. To make a collaboration platform to talk about the rural environment. It can be water, soil, air, and so much more. We want to make a hub for these information and become a nodal organization,” Ren shared.
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