• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Celebrities reach Kilimanjaro summit in hike to highlight water shortages, help refugees

News Stories, 13 January 2010

© Courtesy of Summit on the Summit
The celebrity climbers, well padded against the cold, pose on Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak.

GENEVA, January 13 (UNHCR) American film stars Jessica Biel and Emile Hirsch and other celebrities have scaled Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, to raise awareness about global shortages of drinking water and to raise money for UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.

"The Summit on the Summit team has reached the top of Mt Kili! A great moment captured," said a tweet sent from the mountain's highest point, 19,340-foot Uhuru Peak, on Tuesday morning and carried on the official expedition web site. The climbers, who set off up Kilimanjaro last Thursday, are now on their way back down.

Those climbing alongside Biel and Hirsch include rapper Lupe Fiasco, conservationist and explorer Alexandra Cousteau, environmentalist Kick Kennedy, award-winning photographers Michael Muller and Jimmy Chin, singer Santi White and actress Isabel Lucas.

Acclaimed Ethiopian-born musician Kenna, the mastermind behind the "Summit on the Summit," is leading the hike. His uncle died of a water-borne disease, while his father also fell ill from drinking dirty water as a child in his native Ethiopia. Elizabeth Gore, executive director of global partnerships at the United Nations Foundation, is among others taking part.

The main aim of the "Summit on the Summit" is to raise public awareness about the global clean water crisis, which affects more than 1 billion people around the world, including hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced people of concern to the UN refugee agency. Many of them live in Africa.

The group of celebrity climbers, well padded against the cold, posed on Uhuru Peak with a banner reading: "Send Water."

The climb will also raise funds to be distributed through the UN Foundation to several groups, including UNHCR, the Children's Safe Drinking Water Programme (CSDW) and Water For People and Playpumps International.

The route to the top of the world's tallest free-standing mountain took the climbers through savannah, tropical jungle, alpine pasture, moorland, desert, snowfields and glacial landscapes, according to the official expedition website.

The last 48 hours were the toughest and coldest, with the team braving a snowstorm the day before they headed for the top. After 10,000 feet the risk of altitude sickness increases, and fatigue sets in. The symptoms vary from headache, dizziness and nausea to lethargy and euphoria.

The team, who have been sending status updates, tweets, photographs and videos at regular intervals, were clearly delighted to reach the summit. "Emotional scene at top with hugging & crying. Amazing feat and successful in raising awareness," tweeted Greg Allwood, director of CSDW.

Members of the public can also make donations through the web site, sponsoring every foot of Kilimanjaro. Biel, Kenna, Gore and some of the other climbers are scheduled to visit a refugee camp in Ethiopia on Friday where UNHCR runs water projects that benefit the forcibly displaced as well as local communities.

Summit on the Summit website

United Nations Foundation website




Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Provision of clean water and sanitation services to refugees is of special importance.

The Global Report and Funding Reports

A comprehensive view of the refugee agency's challenges and achievements worldwide.


Governments, organisations and individuals who fund UNHCR's activities.

The Global Appeal and Supplementary Appeals

Alerting donors, organizations and individuals to the plight of millions of uprooted people.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

The Oubangui River is a vital source of food and water for the hundreds of thousands living along its 1,000-kilometre-long course, and many rely on it for transport, trade and agriculture. The river, forming the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Central African Republic and Republic of Congo, has also been a life-saving bridge to safety for people fleeing the waves of violence that plague this deprived region - and a route back home when peace returns. This year, more than 40,000 terrified people have fled conflict in Central African Republic and crossed the river to find shelter in DRC's Equateur and Oriental provinces. Here they have received a warm welcome from the local people, many of whom know exactly what it is like to be a refugee. Time and again, newly arrived refugees from CAR seek out people they once hosted in Bangui and other places along the river. And these old friends are offering them and their families places in already cramped homes, and sharing their meagre resources. Photographer Brian Sokol recently travelled to Equateur province to document the extraordinary bond between the refugees and host communities. These are some of his striking portraits of hosts and their guests. They know that one day their roles could be reversed by the ebb and flow of violence.

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

Faced with nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur fleeing into the barren desert of eastern Chad, the UN refugee agency has essentially had to build small villages – including shelter, latrines, water supply and basic services – to accommodate the refugees and help them survive in a hostile natural environment with scarce local resources. The 11 camps set up so far shelter more than 166,000 refugees from Darfur.

While much work still needs to be done, especially to find sufficient water in the arid region, life in the camps has reached a certain level of normalcy, with schools and activities starting up and humanitarian aid regularly distributed to the residents. Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to improve services and living conditions in the existing camps and is working to set up new camps to take in more refugees from the ongoing violence in Darfur.

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.
Cameroon: Refugees from Central African Republic cross river into CameroonPlay video

Cameroon: Refugees from Central African Republic cross river into Cameroon

On March 29 approximately 60 refugees from the Central African Republic made the desperate river crossing into Gbiti in eastern Cameroon. Signs of malnutrition were apparent as they waded through the water and were met by UNHCR staff.
Burkina Faso: Water CaravansPlay video

Burkina Faso: Water Caravans

In Burkina Faso's arid Sahel region, UNHCR trucks are shuttling desperately needed water supplies to Malian refugees.