“I was born in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur. My parents were Vietnamese war refugees. They escaped by boat to Malaysia after the war. My mother, who was pregnant with me, was only 19 at the time. Luckily, the Red Cross was managing the refugee camp and we were sent to Geneva, Switzerland. That’s where I grew up, and maybe this is why I find myself getting involved in charity work. In 2012 I launched a donation site, called Ikifu, to help victims of the devastating earthquake that hit Japan a year before that.
“Today I’m trying to help solve the global water crisis. We never think there’s a problem because we just turn the tap and out comes water ready to drink. But there are more than 700 million people without access to clean water. With climate change, people are starting to realize that it doesn’t rain as much as it did before. Even in Switzerland there’s less snow in winter. The problem will only get worse as the population grows. Every person born doesn’t just drink one liter, they drink thousands or millions of liters. On the contrary, supply stays the same. And it’s not just drinking water that’s needed. As people rise from poverty, they’re going to want cars, fancy clothes, and eat steaks. To produce one kilo of beef you need around 20,000 liters of water. A pair of jeans needs 7,000 liters of water. So just living a normal life requires an incredible amount of water.
“People say, ‘Oh we can use desalination and take water from the ocean.’ This is already being done in other countries. But the process is expensive and they come with environmental consequences, like salt. Throwing excess salt back to the ocean will make seawater really salty and may even kill some aquatic life. There’s also an overexploitation of underground fresh water. At some point we won’t be able to extract anymore. I think the answer lies in atmospheric water generators, which take directly from the air. They also don’t harm the environment, only release cool air, and they’re more affordable. We can place these machines in dry regions with scarce or no water. Then install solar panels to turn them into a self-sustaining ecosystem. We’d hire local women because 90 percent of people who spend hours fetching water every day are women.
“If we don’t do this, if we do nothing, then the price of water will go up because demand will only go up as more people are born. And big multinational companies will profit from our limited supply. Water should be a human right, but CEOs of some companies don’t think so. So we need a plan. Because what happens when these big corporations own all the water in the world? They can basically control people.”
(Nhat Vuong founded Water Inception to help solve the water shortage crisis.)