Australian water scarcity activist Mina Guli completes her 200th marathon outside UN headquarters, ahead the UN Water Conference, on March 22, 2023 Image: Leonardo Munoz/ AFP
Mina Guli went looking for a water problem but discovered a global "catastrophe."
Driven by passion and the testimony of water crisis victims worldwide, the Australian on Wednesday completed her 200th marathon in a year to demand action against a looming disaster.
From her home country's deserts to the glaciers of Tajikistan, from the Amazon rainforest to Africa's parched riverbeds, the self-described reluctant ultra-marathoner has covered 8,440 kilometers (5,244 miles) across 32 countries.
Her remarkable journey concluded when she collapsed into her mother's arms outside United Nations headquarters, where a global water summit is being held through Friday.
An outlandish challenge? "I think I'm crazy too," Guli laughed during a solo run earlier this week in New York's Central Park—her 198th marathon-length outing.
But "I want to raise awareness about the global water crisis," the 52-year-old told AFP.
"I'm not a natural runner," she confessed. "I didn't grow up running. I don't really like running."
But she found that putting one foot in front of the other—marathon after marathon—was the best way to "take the voices of the people from the frontlines of this water crisis... and inspire these government officials, these corporate leaders, to take action."
Guli, a former lawyer who founded and leads the Thirst Foundation which promotes global water awareness, recounted the highlights of this past year's "Run Blue" journey.
"I thought I was going to see a problem, and what I found was a catastrophe," she said, noting the "women and girls who walk for hours every day risking their lives to fetch water."Also read: Half of bottled water sales enough to provide safe tap water to all: UN report
She crossed dried-up lakes, running "past carcasses of boats lying stranded in the sand," and traversed the high glaciers of Tajikistan, where global warming has precipitated rapid ice melt.
"What I saw was heartbreaking—the (glacier) surface pockmarked with these blue puddles," Guli said. "It's horrifying."
Step up and listen
It's one thing to see the crisis displayed in the world's media, the alarming facts and figures laid out in black and white, Guli went on, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"But when you go there, and you see it for yourself, and you feel the raw emotion, the hurt of these people, you just realize this is far bigger and deeper than anything we could have imagined."
Thousands of delegates gathered just steps away at the UN conference as she broke the blue tape early Friday on her final run, high-fiving observers as applause and cheers rang out.Also read: Twilight of the Tigris: Iraq's mighty river drying up
"It's time for our leaders, and particularly our leaders this week, to step up and to listen to those voices, to hear them and to say 'we're going to do everything we can to solve this global water crisis'," Guli said, noting she was "a little sad" her monumental adventure has come to an end.
Back in 2018 the Australian had embarked on a challenge to run 100 marathons in 100 days, but she broke her leg on her 62nd race.
"I thought I could mobilize and create change instantly," she recalled. "The truth is that change takes time."