RELX Environmental Challenge 2022

Since 2011, the RELX Environmental Challenge has been awarded to projects that best demonstrate how they can provide sustainable access to safe water or sanitation. Poor access to water and sanitation has been a growing crisis, with around 800m people worldwide lacking access to clean water and 2bn people lacking access to basic sanitation. Making this situation worse is the rapid expansion of urban populations in cities where, according to UN-Habitat, the United Nations agency for human settlements, more than 1bn people (or one in eight) live in slums, most of which are not connected to municipal water or sanitation systems. Without radical new systems and technologies, it will be impossible to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

It was the recognition of how central water is to human development that in 2010 led RELX to start developing an idea for a competition that would celebrate promising innovations that could advance global access to water and sanitation. 

Applicants can be individuals or organisations. They might work in the for-profit or non-profit sectors. They might be physicists, chemists, or work in business. But what they all have in common is that their innovation meets the criteria RELX set out for the competition. Submissions for the award must:

  • Be replicable, scalable and sustainable and set a benchmark for innovation
  • Have practical applicability
  • Address non-discrimination and equity of access
  • Involve and have an impact on a wide range of stakeholders
  • Involve local communities

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 RELX Environmental Challenge.

The 2022 $50,000 first prize winner is Caminos de Agua, a community focused, data-driven and science-oriented NGO based in Mexico. The project addresses the challenge of water contamination in central Mexico where toxic levels of contaminants, such as arsenic and fluoride are causing chronic health conditions. Caminos de Agua have developed a low-cost, easy to build, community managed Groundwater Treatment System (GTS) that uses universally available materials for construction, which are able to be replaced at community level. The system leverages filtration media including iron oxide for arsenic removal and locally produced bonechar to absorb fluoride. This project is designed to be directly operated, monitored and maintained by the rural community itself, putting the power of water treatment into the hands of those most adversely affected. The GTS is designed with replicability and scalability in mind, using readily available materials that make it replicable almost anywhere in the world. The technology is protected under open-source licenses, making their designs and data free to use for all, so their GTS can be scaled to other regions and contexts.

The $25,000 second prize winner is MSABI’s True Life Water Points project, a Tanzanian organisation offering a subscription-based maintenance model for community water points in rural Tanzania that increases access and coverage of improved water sources. It is estimated that in Tanzania there are over 30,000 non-functioning water points that could otherwise be providing access to safe water to an estimated 7.5 million people. This project builds on MSABI’s work to rehabilitate abandoned water assets by providing proactive and reactive maintenance and repair services in exchange for a low-cost monthly premium. Subscribers benefit from an advanced water point surveillance system that is used to monitor distribution and functionality of water points, they can trigger alerts via SMS with mechanics responding within 24 hours. The subscription can be paid for and managed via mobile phone, making it accessible to people or community groups with no access to conventional banking systems.