Resource conservation with vision for clean water in the global south

For Techem, water is an important resource worth protecting. More than two billion people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water. Climate change is exacerbating the problem and water stress is becoming a global problem. Techem specifically supports water projects of the Water Is Right Foundation (WIR) to counteract this.

 

Rolf Stahlhofen, founder of the Water Is Right Foundation, explains in an interview what drives him and the organization and why the joint commitment is so important. The musician, who is known for being a member of the band Söhne Mannheims, was named a UN Habitat Water Ambassador “Messenger of Truth” by the United Nations.

Rolf, in a nutshell, what is Water Is Right and what makes the foundation tick?

„WIR is convinced that access to affordable and clean drinking water is a human right. This needs to be recognized globally. Water is a value, not a currency! Therefore, we advocate a world in which local water is appreciated and safely distributed. To make a concrete difference, our focus is on drinking water and sanitation projects in countries of the global south, together with local communities. To date, we have been able to implement water projects for five million people. But we also see it as our responsibility to raise awareness of the issue among people around the world. What else makes us special? Many musicians and artists support Water Is Right: We use the stage to emotionally charge the topic."

You are a musician yourself and became known as the singer of Söhne Mannheims, among your other activities. You founded Water Is Right in 2011. What motivated you to do so? 

„I grew up in various African countries where access to clean drinking water was usually not available. When I came to Germany, I couldn’t believe that you could just drink water from the tap here. That was a formative experience for me. In 2002, I played my first charity concert for the victims of the flood disaster on the Elbe. This was followed by another, which financed solar water pumps in Eritrea. I realized then that you can make a difference with music. I started to finance drinking water and sanitation projects with every tenth part of concert and event revenues. If I could join up with a small team and play a little bit of music to make water projects happen for about five million people over the last ten years, then we can all do a lot more together. Our goal at Water Is Right is to work with artists, companies like Techem, and communities to realize water projects for 100 million people."

Since you founded the organization, you have already realized many drinking water projects in countries of the global South - what are you actually doing there?

„Correct. In the last 10 years, we have completed around 25 projects in 14 countries and also done a lot of educational work at the political level to ensure that the human right to water is strengthened and enforced worldwide. In concrete terms, we provide innovative water treatment plants in regions without access to clean drinking water and ensure that the water that is available locally is of the desired quality - without unnecessary transport routes or plastic production, sustainably and responsibly. Our team also trains local professionals to make community water management self-sufficient and improve sanitation standards. Together with schools and communities, as well as cultural institutions and companies, we also organize “City Clean Ups” to educate people about the dangers of contaminated drinking water. We also advise institutions, companies, cities and communities on all aspects of water - including here in Germany, where certain regions already have to deal with water shortages at times."

What have you learned through ten years of development cooperation?

„Above all, that you should not be discouraged by your mistakes. In my view, they are even important in order to learn and move forward. The world in the global south is a different place than here in Germany. It is therefore all the more important to meet the people on the ground at eye level, to get involved in the local conditions and to involve the entire community in the projects. To achieve this, contacts must be available on site and projects must function and finance themselves in the long term so that a small business can develop from them. Here is an example from a cooperation with the Udo Lindenberg Foundation: Together, we installed a water treatment plant in a school, from which teachers, students and their families can obtain clean drinking water free of charge. 

The rest is sold to the community. From the money raised, the school can finance itself and there is even something left over that goes to several local families."

Techem’s current donations go to a sanitation project in Nairobi, Kenya. In the Mathare slum, where around 600,000 people live, the “Young Soccer Women of Mathare” soccer club has turned a garbage dump into a sports field. This has become a self-organized community center as a place for soccer, leisure activities and meetings. WIR supports the community with the installation of sanitary and washrooms to ensure the supply of clean water on site. Especially in a slum like Mathare, an upgrade project like this is an important sign. The goal is for the community to manage the facilities themselves once they are completed. Optimism among the young people increases enormously when they are able to help themselves and improve their situation through respectful cooperation. In doing so, the project pays tribute to five of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: it sets new standards in terms of reduced inequalities, quality education, health and well-being, and clean water and sanitation.