Running to raise awareness about the water crisis

Mina Guli with a trail running team that showed her the routes on Signal hill and Table Mountain.

When Australian runner and water activist Mina Guli visited Cape Town last week, she concluded her South African adventure with a trail run up and down Table Mountain and Signal Hill and a leisurely jog along the Sea Point Promenade.

Since March, Ms Guli has finished 72 marathons, four of them in South Africa and plans to finish her 200th marathon in New York City in March next year.

Ms Guli, CEO of the Thirst Foundation, is on a mission to raise awareness of the global water crisis and propel the development of solutions, and during her time on the continent, has also completed the 42.2 kilometre marathon distance in Kenya and Tanzania.

“I do what I do because water is the foundation of absolutely everything we do, everything we use, we consume every day. Without water we have no economy no society and no community, water is in everything,” said Ms Guli, 51, from Melbourne.

Mina Guli runs on the bed of what was once the Aral Sea.

The aim of her campaign is to get the support of 200 companies, as well as governments, to support the Rn Blue campaign. She runs 42.2 kilometres for every challenge, but, she says, sometimes she exceeds the distance.

“We need water to be on the front page of the news and we need to drive corporate action, governmental action. They have the capacity to set the agenda and individual action. Companies represent almost 90% of global fresh water use either directly or indirectly, and it’s auctioned by every single one of us.”

“The reality is that there are a lot of solutions. There are innovative solutions in behaviour change, in doing things differently. We saw that farmers in Cape Town are using shade cloth over the crops to protect it from the sun and to reduce water evaporation. As individuals we can water our plants in the morning or in the evening.”

“In Gqeberha they have fixed 4 000 leaks and these were businesses that got together and made this huge impact. They have stepped up as consumers and companies.”

The Aral Sea, a 68 000km2 lake in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, no longer exists. And, says Ms Guli, by 2025, close to 230 million Africans could face water scarcity and up to 460 million will be living in water-stressed areas.

“There are boats stranded in a desert and this was one of the biggest lakes in the world. The economy has stopped. It was a waterway, people used to fish there and now there is no eco-system and this was caused by the overuse and mismanagement of water. People are poor there and they are struggling. The people that live there have asked us to show the world what has happened and to help them.”

“We have a problem. It’s urgent. Let’s take action and through this campaign we want the world to see this problem so that people cannot say they did not know,” she said.

Ms Guli has suffered from heat exhaustion, torn calf muscles and a cracked femur and almost gave up in 2019 due to the anguish she faced.

“In 2019 I committed to doing 100 marathons in 100 days and at run 62 I was diagnosed here, in Cape Town, with a 17cm fracture and I could not walk. I was using a wheelchair. I was questioning my ability, my sanity, why am I doing this. It was really a dark time for me.

“I thought that I can’t solve this problem if I look after myself. I never faced such darkness and I thought I let down my team, my community and the next generation. My mentor told me not to let my purpose be confused with my goals, meaning that my purpose, solving the water crisis was bigger than my goal which is to run the marathons. It was hard to hear this.”

Ms Guli’s teammates then ran a marathon for her on day 63. Then they reached out to the running communities of Cape Town and on day 64, Capetonians came out to contribute to her kilometres.

“My team realised I could not do this and they accepted that this water crisis is about them too. They did a call out to the people of Cape Town. Thousands of people here and around the world ran these miles for the next 38 days. And we watched as this campaign was not about me doing this but about everyone dedicating their miles to this cause.”

The Run Blue campaign has reached people in 193 countries and people are running and walking for this cause.

“We have an opportunity in the lead-up to the United Nations water summit next year to give voice to the voiceless, to lift the voices of the people on the front lines of the water crisis across Africa and together as a community, not only to put water onto the global agenda, but to drive concrete commitments from companies, governments and from individuals to solve our global water crisis.”

Mina Guli runs past the ship graveyard in Uzbekistan, this was once the Aral Sea.