Stockholm Water Prize Laureate is Rita Colwell, for her research into preventing waterborne infectious diseases.
Colwell won the prize for “numerous seminal contributions towards solving the world’s water and water-related public health problems,” the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee wrote in a statement. While her work “has established the basis for environmental and infectious disease risk assessment used around the world,” Colwell focused on preventing the spread of cholera.
The 76-year-old professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that cholera-causing bacteria can go dormant, then later revert to an infectious state. Therefore, bodies of water frequently store the bacteria, even absent an outbreak of the disease.
“These findings counteracted the conventional wisdom held that cholera (could only enter) the environment … due to release of sewage,” the Stockholm International Water Institute said in a statement. “As a result of her work, scientists are now able to link changes in the natural environment to the spread of disease.”
Cholera is a waterborne disease that each year affects between three and five million people worldwide, according to SIWI, and causes an estimated 120,000 deaths.
Colwell was among the first to link the spread of diseases, including cholera, to climate change, SIWI scientific director Per-Arne Malmqvist told reporters at an announcement in Stockholm. She also led experiments on the impact of El Niño on human health and aquatic environmental stability in the United States.
Expanding beyond research initiatives, Colwell helped spread community-based water safety education and practical, inexpensive technologies for better drinking water and sanitation in Latin and South America in the 90s.
She’s held multiple positions during her decades of work in water-related fields, spanning advisory roles in the U.S. government, non-profit science and policy organizations and private foundations.
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf will present the award and $150,000 prize sum to Colwell September 9 in Stockholm.
Since 1991, the prize has been awarded annually to people, institutes or organizations working to preserve water resources, improve public health and protect the ecosystem.
is a Washington, D.C–based correspondent for Circle of Blue. He graduated from DePauw University as a Media Fellow with a B.A. in Conflict Studies. He co-writes The Stream, a daily summary of global water news.