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Kiara Nirghin South Africa, 18

Project: No More Thirsty Crops
Basic Human Needs: Environment, Food, Water

When Kiara and her family were driving to the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, she was shocked to pass empty reservoirs that had previously always been full of water. This was the first of many times she witnessed the impact of drought on her community, and after further research, she learned about the devastating effects drought had on food and water security. Kiara has developed a unique superabsorbent polymer that holds hundreds of times its weight in water when stored in soil. It is biodegradable, inexpensive and free of harmful chemicals, unlike the manmade materials currently used. The polymer, made entirely from waste products, improves the environment, increases the chance for plants to sustain growth by 84% during a drought and can increase food security by 73% in disaster-struck areas. Last year, Kiara was awarded the Grand Prize at the Google Science Fair, featured by both The Times and the Guardian on their top 30 most influential teens lists, and invited by Forbes and TED to speak about her work. Using these platforms, and her role as a Worldwide Fund for Nature Student Ambassador, Kiara actively promotes the importance of protecting our environment through innovation. By the end of 2018, Kiara plans to successfully implement the polymer in her community and explore other solutions for agriculture worldwide. She has also developed a way to apply the polymer to water filtration, and tackle the issue of clean water supply around the world.