Xprize launches two new competitions addressing water scarcity and women’s safety

The non-profit group Xprize, which creates global competitions to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems using technology, is launching two new competitions today: one to address access to fresh water, the other to address women’s safety.

The two challenges were chosen because of their importance on a global scale, Zenia Tata, the executive director of global development and international expansion at Xprize, tells The Verge. "These issues are extremely valuable for everyone, no matter where they are," Tata says. "Water scarcity is an issue that touches every single person on this planet, and so does women’s safety."

The Water Abundance Xprize will award $1.75 million to participants who will create a device that extracts a minimum of 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of water per day from the atmosphere, using 100 percent renewable energy and at a cost of no more than 2 cents per liter. Technology to extract water from thin air already exists, but "it’s highly energy inefficient," Tata says. The renewable tech developed under this program will be aimed at helping developing countries where poor people often don’t have access to fresh water not only for drinking, but also cleaning, cooking, and for use in agriculture.

All over the world, 780 million people currently don't have access to clean water, and 3.4 million die each year due to water-borne diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Water scarcity is one of the world’s biggest problems, according to the UN, and it’s bound to get worse. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, the UN says.

"Water is a pretty significant issue for our times," Tata says. And if we don’t expand access to clean, fresh water in the next decade, she adds, "we are headed for a major, major disaster on our planet, economically as well as just health-wise."

The Women’s Safety Xprize will award $1 million to participants who will create a system for women to seek help in emergency situations. The technology or service will have to trigger an emergency alert and transmit information to a network of community responders within 90 seconds and at an annual cost of $40 or less. This Xprize won’t only be valuable for women, but for global society as a whole and for the economy, Tata says. Advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth, according to a McKinsey report. That starts with women being safe.

"When women are safe, children are safe," Tata says. "When women are safe, economies thrive. It’s good business to keep women safe."

The two new prizes are going to be launched in India, a country where both issues of water scarcity and women’s safety are key. But India is also becoming "a leading global innovation hub," Tata says, and it was chosen because Xprize wants to tap into that promising pool of entrepreneurs and investors. "We don’t have the hubris to believe that we can address all of humanity's grand challenges from Los Angeles," Tata says. "We really want to go out into the world where both the problems and the will to solve are really palpable and surround us. We want to find innovators everywhere."

The Water Abundance Xprize will accept applications starting today until February 28th, while the Women’s Safety Xprize from today until March 31st. The winners for both competitions will be announced in the summer of 2018. By adding these two competitions, Xprize hopes to add to its list of global challenges the nonprofit is trying to find solutions to. "There are a lot of big issues on the planet," Tata says. "We’re hoping to address a lot of them."


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