Alexandra Cousteau
Alexandra Cousteau, shown in Toronto, founded the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Blue Legacy in 2008. Two videos here explain her work - one on how she inspires scholarship at UCI and a second providing a deeper look at her organization. Oscar Durand / Blue Legacy

Nearly a billion people on the planet lack access to clean and safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization. To raise awareness of the global water crisis and inspire others to take action, UC Irvine’s Center for Unconventional Security Affairs is honoring environmentalist Alexandra Cousteau with its 2011 Human Security Award.

The award recognizes individuals and groups who empower and protect the world’s most vulnerable communities. Cousteau, granddaughter of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, advocates for the sustainable management of water resources through Blue Legacy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit she founded in 2008.

Through her global initiatives, Cousteau engages people in marine conservation and helps ensure human access to potable water. She envisions Blue Legacy as a catalyst for promoting innovative solutions to water issues worldwide.

It’s a message that resonates with Morgan Bailey, a UCI grad student researcher in chemical engineering & materials science. He works with the campus chapter of Engineers Without Borders to improve water and sanitation in the impoverished village of Endana, Kenya.

“Some of their water is roughly on par with the water quality of sewage,” Bailey says. “It’s astounding to think people are drinking something that’s virtually like mud.”

He and other UCI students will travel to Kenya in July to work with the community on sanitation infrastructure and education. The team plans on providing the community with the knowledge and technical skills to prevent illness related to poor water quality and sanitation.

“What’s really exciting about Alexandra Cousteau is that she shows how much one person can effect change,” Bailey says. “It inspires me to go out and do more. I am just one person, but with the networks at UCI, I can make a difference.”

Cousteau will deliver a keynote address at the award ceremony, 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences & Engineering.