Martha Gebeyehu of Ethiopia receives OU’s International Water Prize

OU Interim Vice President Jane Irungu, left, presents the hand-blown glass trophy in the shape of a water droplet with a world map overlaid to Martha Gebeyehu, the 2019 International Water Prize winner. The World Health Organization estimates 800 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation.
Travis Caperton

NORMAN, Oklahoma. — An Ethiopian woman who helps coordinate government workers and private, self-help groups to promote clean water and sanitation formally received the 2019 University of Oklahoma International Water Prize at a banquet Tuesday evening.

Martha Gebeyehu received the $25,000 cash prize and hand-blown glass trophy shaped like a water droplet at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the end of the OU WaTER Center’s two-day conference.

Gebeyehu, who was chosen the winner by five jurors in 2018, said much of her country does not have access to adequate drinking water. Ninety four percent of the population drinks untreated water and nearly that many do not have access to basic sanitation.

Gebeyehu, of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is the training center manager at the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church. She has trained more than a million people in proper water and sanitation, according to OU Interim Vice President Jane Irungu, who introduced and embraced Gebeyehu as a fellow East African woman.

“Water is life,” Irungu said. “Thank you, Martha for everything you have done.”

Gebeyehu said the key is involving those persons who will benefit from better water and sanitation.

“We need to truly listen,” she said. “They are the experts of their own domain.”

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