As 11 climbers embarking this weekend for the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro stop to purify water from streams along the way, money they raise will be flowing into African communities to give them clean drinking water as well — for life. 

The climbers are making the 50-mile trek to the top of the tallest mountain in Africa on behalf of Water School, a non-profit organization that provides sustainable clean water solutions in developing nations.

And their fundraising goal is as lofty as their climb. Each participant is responsible for raising $5,985, which equates to one dollar for every meter of the mountain’s vertical rise. Most climbers had surpassed this amount by the time they left for Africa, leaving the total sum raised at $90,000 to date.

The money will go directly to Water School’s field work in Africa and Haiti. Each $10 raised provides one child with lasting access to clean drinking water, meaning that 9,000 people’s lives will be changed by the climb.

The problem of unclean drinking water in today’s world is a daunting one. According to the World Health Organization, 894 million people lack access to clean water. Each year, approximately 2 million children die from waterborne diseases.

The solution Water School offers is simple and requires no more than a pop bottle. Through a process called Solar Disinfection (SODIS), water placed in a clear plastic bottle and left in the sun for one day becomes pure enough to drink, as UV rays permeating the bottle kill 99.9999 percent of the bacteria inside.

Water School is currently introducing the SODIS method in countries such as Sudan, Nairobi, Uganda, Kenya and Haiti, where bacteria in water leads to life-threatening diseases, including typhoid, cholera and dysentery.

In Haiti, poor sanitation following the earthquake in January of 2010 spurred an outbreak of cholera that is expected to kill 11,000 people by December of this year, according to a study published in the Lancet Journal last week.

The study estimates that reducing the consumption of contaminated water there by 1 percent each week would prevent approximately 105,000 cases of cholera and 900 deaths between now and the end of November. 

Water School is working to establish the SODIS system in Cap Hatien, Haiti, in the northern region of the country where the epidemic has hit hardest. Part of the money raised by the Kilimanjaro climb will contribute to Water School’s effort to curb the effects of the outbreak.

Water School also operates in Kenya, close enough to the base of Kilimanjaro that hikers can visit programs near Nairobi and Kajiado to see the impact their efforts will have on local communities. 

“It is important to us that participants get to see the projects and interact with the very people they are taking on this challenge for,” said Water School co-founders Bob Dell and Fraser Edwards in an emailed message to Food Safety News.

Dell and Edwards have high hopes for the climb, which they say will raise awareness in addition to raising funds, as climbers from the United States, Europe and Canada garner support for Water School’s mission in their local communities and social networks.

“This climb is important to Water School because it helps us spread the message of what we are doing to people we would otherwise not have access to,” they say.

Hikers begin their 2-day visit to Water School’s Kenyan locations Thursday, and begin their 7-day climb for clean water Saturday.

Click here for more information on the climb.