03 Jul 2018 Story Sustainable Development Goals

Just google it?

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“Service is my guiding value. One day we will leave this earth, and what remains is what we do for people,” says Omer Badokhon, the Young Champion of the Earth for West Asia. Born in a small village in war-torn Yemen, Badokhon’s daily life is filled with challenges ranging from conflict to no electricity or water.  

Last year, Yemen was hit by the world’s largest and fastest-spreading cholera outbreak. Conflict and economic deterioration, lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation continue to fuel fears of another outbreak.

And yet despite these challenges, with no internet connectivity, little opportunity to travel or connect with other people, Badokhon continues to build his award-winning dream of supplying electricity for cooking, and fertilizer for growing food to his community.

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Omer Badokhon Photo by UN Environment

His technology aims to provide daily meals and hope for his community. “When I hear people are dying in Yemen from cholera, I feel very sorry, because I know there is a solution to avoid this,” he explains.

“The organic waste is the main reason for cholera. We can solve this problem by converting it into biogas. This is a biochemical process in which we produce methane and carbon dioxide. We can collect it and use it for both energy and fuel.”

Badokhon says Yemenis, on average produce half a kilo of organic waste per day. This means each family has enough waste to provide cooking fuel to make a meal.

For Badokhon, and millions of others in regions where harsh realities of daily life make simple tasks like finding food a challenge, being an entrepreneur isn’t a smooth sail. During a period in our history when, in many countries, internet connectivity seems like the most simple and natural solution to many challenges, it’s tempting to think that anything is possible.

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Eritai Kateibwi Photo by UN Environment

Yet in many countries, finding solutions involves overcoming major hurdles, and not just typing a problem into a search engine like Google. Badokhon is still searching for funding and partners to take this project to its next phase.

Eritai Kateibwi, is another Young Champion of the Earth. He lives in the Pacific, on one of the 33 the islands of Kiribati, which are among the most isolated in the world. The low-lying nation in the Pacific Ocean lies only meters above sea level at the highest point.

With a population of 114,000 and only one road, rising ocean waters, salt intrusion, and the cost of importing food has led to high rates of malnutrition and diabetes. Flooding and salt water have decimated food supplies for many families, and nutritious, fresh food is unavailable or more expensive.

But Kateibwi has been working hard to find a solution. “I developed a simple and affordable hydroponic process to grow nutritious food, because people do not have a healthy and nutritious diet,” he explains.

“The hydroponic system does not need soil so it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and can be elevated and raised above the ground so it escapes flooding. I grow the food in containers using water packed with nutrients instead of soil.”

Using his system, Kateibwi has successfully produced lettuce, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes and melon. But, he explains, it’s hard to source the inputs needed for making nutrient-dense food for the crops.

Without the option of just going on Google to find out what’s available, Kateibwi is still trying to source local solutions to make sure the plants reach maximum growth. “The major challenge we have is producing our own fertilizer, as we lack resources on the island. We need to import ingredients which is very expensive,” he explains.

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Photo by UN Environment

“We are undertaking a study to use local materials to produce our own fertilizer, and we are currently doing lots of experiments to make this more effective.” So how will he tackle this challenge?

“Experiments, research and research,” said Kateibwi. For Kateibwi and Badokhon, googling to find solutions isn’t an option. But, as they pave the way in their respective areas of research, and search for solutions, they set an example and raise hope within their communities that anything is possible.

Kateibwi and Badokhon have remarkable courage and perseverance – exactly the ingredients needed to overcome hurdles. Thanks to their efforts, when future generations take to Google to search for solutions in Yemen and Kiribati, they are more likely to find them.