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Noted global water issues expert speaks with OSU agriculture students

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ken Surritte, founder and CEO of WATERisLIFE, was on Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus recently, providing insights gained firsthand about global water issues with students in the Master of International Agriculture Program.

“Water security is an important determinant of food security and an indicator of economic development,” said Shida Henneberry, MIAP director & OSU Regents professor. “Ken’s foundation has made a significant impact in the world and I am glad he was able to share his experiences with our MIAP Applied International Agricultural Issues class.”

Each fall MIAP, a part of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, hosts guest speakers from all aspects of the agriculture industry to broaden student understanding of agricultural issues and practices around the world.

WATERisLIFE was founded in hopes of providing safe drinking water to children. The organization started by drilling wells for orphanages and schools, eventually working alongside a water purification company to create portable straw filters designed to increase the cleanliness of drinking water used by children, schools and villages. To date, WATERisLIFE has helped enhance clean water supplies in 40 countries.

“Dirty water kills more children today than war, malaria, HIV and traffic accidents combined,” Surritte said, adding that 6,500 people will die today because they do not have access to clean water; 5,000 of those will be kids.

Henneberry believes the efforts of researchers such as MIAP student Marquette Bugg, who is working with OSU agricultural engineering professor Tim Bowser on a water purification project, could have significant implications for developing countries that suffer from lack of access to clean water.

“Through research being conducted alongside Dr. Bowser, I hope to help implement biosand water filtration systems that incorporate charcoal as a means of removing heavy metals to improve health among rural Ghanian communities,” Bugg said. “Over the past five years, illegal gold mining has introduced dangerous levels of heavy metal contamination into rural water supplies.”

The project is co-funded through MIAP and the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system, a state agency that is part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, as is the college.

Henneberry said WATERisLIFE has opportunities for students who are interested in making a difference to travel as part of their team. Additional information about WATERisLIFE is available online by visiting

To learn more about MIAP and upcoming speakers for the program’s Seminar Speaker Series, visit online.

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