The stated goal of Kenna’s “Summit on the Summit: Kilimanjaro” was to raise awareness about the global clean-water crisis — more than 1 billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and water-related diseases claim the lives of nearly 4 million people each year — because, as he put it, “What’s more noticeable than climbing a mountain?”
In January, along with a team of 300 that included fellow musicians Lupe Fiasco and Santigold, actors Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch (not to mention scientists, United Nations ambassadors, a film crew and experienced guides), Kenna began his climb up Mount Kilimanjaro , battling freezing rain, gashing rocks and dizzying atmospheric conditions on his way to the peak, some 19,000 feet above sea level . Their trek was documented in “Summit” — which premiered Sunday on MTV — and followed by fans online and, accordingly, awareness was raised. But now that he’s back down from the mountain, Kenna says the real struggle has just begun.
Because with no mountain left to climb, Kenna and company are tasked with keeping that awareness alive and, in the process, trying to keep the U.S. government from slashing funding for support of clean-water initiatives. It was actually a battle he began fighting before the ascent up Kilimanjaro even began.
“In November, I went to the State Department and Congress, spent time with [Congresswoman] Nita Lowey. I went there to ask them if I was to climb a mountain to raise awareness, would it help raise awareness in Washington to get appropriations?” Kenna told MTV News. “The response was, ‘Well, good luck, because it would certainly be helpful.’ ”
So he climbed. And then he went back to Washington, along with a team that included United Nations Foundation ambassador Elizabeth Gore, with the express purpose of securing appropriations for fighting water-borne diseases.
“We went down and did a photo exhibition at the State Department to show just how serious this issue is. We sat down with Congressman [Earl] Blumenaur in [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s conference room,” Kenna said. “He was one of the first to write [Senator] Paul Simon’s ‘Water for the World.’ We went there to ask hard questions, like, ‘Are we spending too much money on things that are interconnected with the water issue?’ Because water is the issue.
“We spend billions of dollars on the prevention of HIV and AIDS, but only hundreds of millions on [preventing] water-borne diseases on other things? And the two issues are related,” he continued. “A woman or a child will walk six miles to get some water, outside of any kind of secure area, and what if one of those women and children gets raped and gets HIV? They will then be taking antiviral medications with compromised water. Or, more commonly, if a child is chasing water, he or she never went to school, never learned about HIV. That same kid will have to take antivirals with compromised water. Basically, how are the anitvirals going to benefit somebody when they’re going to die from water with water-borne diseases?”
And while the goal was to secure necessary appropriations, Kenna and his team also prevented the government from cutting the level of funding from $300 million down to $200 million. For now, they’ll take that small victory, but the goal — according to Gore — is much, much higher.
“We lose a child every 15 seconds to lack of water, so when we went to Washington, we asked Congress for $500 million in appropriations, because we believe we can end this crisis,” she said. “That took guts and teamwork to do and I could never have done it on my own — none of us could, which is why we went together, because if we could climb a mountain, we could certainly do anything.”
Kenna said that the end results of his team’s visit to Washington will be seen on March 22 — World Water Day. He hopes that the State Department will consider what he and the team had to say and that appropriations will be secured. He’s optimistic, but at the same time cautions, “I’ll leave it to them to communicate.”
And in the meantime, the fight to secure clean water continues. Both Kenna and Gore are championing a text-to-donate system — just texting the world “send” to 90999 will give $10 to the U.N. Foundation, which translates into 1,000 liters of water, enough to benefit a child for an entire year. And he hopes that long after the memories of his trip up Kilimanjaro fade, people will still remember the message behind that climb. Because at the end of the day, the clean-water crisis affects all of us, even if we don’t realize it just yet.
“We as a human race tend to be short-sighted. We pay attention to things right in front of us and, frankly, we miss the plot. We mean well, but we miss the plot. For me, it’s less of an interesting thing to text and donate, than it is for people to educate themselves about the issue,” Kenna said. “It already affects a billion people. And if you turn on the news, you hear about states like California and Virginia not having enough water already. So it’s coming here. And if we don’t take care of it across the world, we’ll certainly be facing the issue here at home.”
Find out what you can do to help solve the global water crisis now at the “Summit on the Summit” Web site.