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The battle for clean water subject of PLU symposium

Rick McKenney assessing the threat to public health where raw sewage has been flooding homes.
Courtesy of Rick McKenney
Rick McKenney assessing the threat to public health where raw sewage has been flooding homes.

The lack of clean drinking water and unsanitary living conditions widely affects communities stretching across the globe, and for Rick McKenney standing by idle while people die from water-related illnesses every day is not an option.

“In the States, water is there when you turn the faucet on and in a lot of places it isn’t,” said McKenney, founder of the Washington-based Water for Humans organization.

According to the World Health Organization 884 million people lack access to safe water — approximately one in eight people worldwide. Of that population 3.575 million people die each year from water-related diseases-cholera, typhoid, viral hepatitis A, dysentery, diarrhea and other diseases.

The United Nations claims that 90 percent of all deaths caused by diarrheal diseases are children under the age of five, mostly in developing countries.

McKenney will be speaking Friday as part of Our Thirsty Planet, a symposium on the exploitation and need for clean water around the world put on by Pacific Lutheran University’s Wang Center for Global Education.


The topic of McKenney's presentation is “Oaxaca: Water and Sanitation: Challenges and Opportunities." He will be discussing his efforts to provide reliable sanitation and clean drinking water to Oaxacan communities through his co-founded organization Water for Humans.

McKenney has over two-dozen-years of engineering experience and a MBA in Sustainable Business Practices from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. His focus has been on implementing large-scale changes to underdeveloped communities, starting with the most basic and vital of needs — water. 

Water for Humans

Founded in 2008, Water for Humans is a nonprofit social justice enterprise working to increase clean drinking water and decrease unsanitary conditions.

His goals for Water for Humans:

  • Create sustainable solutions to wastewater treatment and management
  • Implement methods to increase clean water resources
  • Employ means to reduce black water through permaculture methods, education and public awareness
  • Build support for watershed restoration by engaging local communities in restoring and preserving their regional watersheds and water delivery infrastructure
  • Create partnerships with communities and training local entrepreneurs to install water purifiers

“In Oaxaca we have a partnered non-governmental organization (NGO) that organizes a community plan, and we help them with their water and sanitation needs,” says McKenney.
With efforts from NGOs, local entrepreneurs and community members, Water for Humans has revamped water and sanitation practices saving, he said, thousands of lives in under severed communities.

Junior Communication major at Pacific Lutheran University.