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Video: Update on Curry’s Kilimanjaro trek

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TODAY contributor
updated 11/18/2008 10:36:33 AM ET 2008-11-18T15:36:33

On the second day of TODAY’s journey to the Ends of the Earth, the focus shifted from a broad view of the threats to the world’s water to specific measures being taken to preserve wildlife, harness green energy and protect water resources.

Meredith Vieira reported from Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia; Matt Lauer was at Half Moon Caye in Belize, and Al Roker was at the man-made Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland. But it was their co-host Ann Curry who drew the most challenging assignment, reporting by phone from 15,700 feet up on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. There she and her support crew were battling fatigue and altitude sickness as they marshaled their strength and resources for a planned Friday attempt on the 19,000-foot summit of Africa’s highest mountain.

‘It’s been a bit rough’
Curry has already spent the better part of a week on the arduous climb up the enormous volcano that is called “The Roof of Africa.” She set out in a tropical rain forest that is growing smaller because of deforestation. Climbing through five different climate zones, she reached 13,000 feet on Monday. After an eight-hour climb on Tuesday, she and her support crew camped at Arrow Glacier Camp, with a spectacular view of the mountain’s rapidly shrinking ice cap.

“I’m feeling the altitude,” Curry admitted to her co-hosts, her normally ebullient voice heavy with fatigue. “We’re all suffering from a bit of altitude sickness … Even though it’s been a bit rough, we’re all in good spirits.”

She and her NBC Universal crew of producers, videographers and technicians are supported by more than 100 Masai porters who have lugged thousands of pounds of food and equipment up the mountain, including generators to power all the electronic gear.

The Masais have made literally hundreds of trips up the mountain with other trekkers. As Curry and her crew battled headaches and fatigue, the Masais played raucous card games during their downtime.

Video: Camp life on Kilimanjaro They drink filtered water collected from glacial runoff and eat well, thanks to the expedition’s Masai chef, Dudu. And they rely on the Masais’ vast experience with the mountain in planning their assault on the peak.

“These guys are really experienced,” Curry said of the guides and porters. “They understand the mountain and they understand altitude sickness. It’s the experience with these kinds of conditions that we will be best served by.”

She said they expect to feel better as they get acclimated. Although their goal is the summit, they will not attempt it if they feel it isn’t safe. “Safety is our number one concern and issue,” Curry said. “The entire team is voting on what we do.”

Water running out
Although Curry was not able to send video Tuesday, she told her co-hosts that her crew has been busy filming. “We’ve gathered new visual evidence of the glacial melt that we’re going to show you tomorrow,” she promised.

The Masais, who depend on Mount Kilimanjaro’s water to survive, have told Curry of the hardships they have endured as their water supply has continued to dwindle as the rain forest and glaciers have continued to shrink.

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Curry told the story of a sixth-grade girl she met who wants to grow up to be a president, like Barack Obama, or a doctor or nurse. To pursue that dream, she walks a half-hour each way to school every day. But now, she’s been told, her school is going to be closed because there is not enough water to support it.

Curry also talked to a New Yorker, Todd Grossman, who several years ago climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for the adventure and then kept coming back to help. Grossman has already helped secure water supplies for several schools that were in danger of being closed, and he’s trying to raise $25,000 to bring water to the school attended by the girl who wants to be president.

Drought in Australia
The growing scarcity of water in Tanzania is an issue that Australia sympathizes with all too well.

On her second day in Sydney, Vieira reported on how the continent’s continuing drought is putting all life, from humans to Australia’s iconic wildlife to livestock and vineyards, under increasing pressure. Other parts of the world will also have to deal with similar issues as the climate continues to change and the human demand for water grows.

“In Australia, they are seeing themselves as the canary in the coal mine and a warning to all of us,” Vieira explained.

Video: Geothermal energy in Iceland However, in Iceland and Belize, Roker and Lauer’s respective locations, there is plenty of water. The issue in Belize is protecting the coral reefs from destruction that would be catastrophic to the country and the world. While the country has taken dramatic steps to protect its resources, Lauer reported that 99 percent of the world’s ocean environments are not protected.

But the lesson in Iceland, Roker reported, is one of hope. The island nation of 320,000 people generates 80 percent of its energy from clean hydropower and geothermal sources. Water that runs through geothermal plants is piped into homes for heat and diverted to the Blue Lagoon mineral-water spa visited by 400,000 tourists a year.

By 2050, Iceland expects to be totally energy independent, generating all its power from renewable resources and converting to electric cars for transportation.

“They are really serving as a template for the rest of the world,” Roker said.

For more international reports from Ann Curry, click here.

More on water shortage | Tanzania

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