In a humorous video posted online Tuesday, actor Matt Damon announced that he is going “on strike” on behalf of the billions of people without access to clean water, working toilets, and proper sanitation.
Beginning the faux press conference, Damon told reporters he had a question for them: how did they celebrate World Toilet Day on November 19th?
“C’mon…World Toilet Day? That’s like a joke,” a reporter remarked.
“Oh yeah?” Damon responds, “Anybody have any idea what invention has saved more lives than any other in the history of humankind? The toilet.”
Highlighting the astonishing fact that more people around the world have cell phones than have access to toilets, the co-founder of water.org, knows a lot about the global water crisis.
In gearing up for UN World Water Day on March 22nd, Damon and water.org CEO Gary White are out with a new ad campaign to raise awareness of the troubling statistics around water scarcity.
It is a massive and compounding problem. 2.5 billion people in developing nations lack access to toilets. 780 million lack access to clean water. And 3.4 million people die each year from preventable water-related disease.
Where there is no clean drinking water, people are forced to drink untreated water wherever they can find it, which easily spreads disease such as diarrhea, that, in turn, causes further dehydration, and is the second leading cause of death among children under five years old.
With no convenient sources available, women are collectively spending 200 million hours per day locating water for domestic use; an incredible time commitment that could otherwise be spent at income-generating jobs, caring for friends and family, or attending school.
Because children are so easily susceptible to water-borne disease, they are missing out on 433 million school days due to illness.
In terms of economics, there is a huge discrepancy in the cost of water. In industrialized nations, where incomes are highest, water is cheapest and plentiful. In developing nations, where incomes are lowest, water is most expensive and in highest demand. And people living in informal settlements such as slums or temporary camps often pay 5-10 times more per liter of water than wealthy people in the same area.
In spite of the sometimes overwhelming nature of the problem, there is good reason to keep fighting it. On average, every U.S. dollar invested in clean water and sanitation garners a return of eight dollars. This appears to be true around the world as well. The World Health Organization estimates that for each dollar invested in water-related projects, there is a return rate of $3-34 depending upon factors like region and technology.
Water.org has seen their projects succeed in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. The organization works directly with local populations and in-country partners to finance and build wells and toilets and increase good sanitation and hygiene practices.
Local communities make requests through in-country partners and are fully engaged in the process from the start. They are required to contribute at least 10% of the cost in the form of monetary contributions, securing construction materials, or contributing labor. Locals retain ownership and responsibility over their new resource.
Water.org also administers a successful micro-finance program called WaterCredit and are the first to apply micro-financing to the field of water and sanitation management. Granting loans of between $50-200 USD each for community water projects, they report that 98% of loans are repaid.
To join Matt Damon in his strike, visit www.strikewithme.org.
– Jordan N. Hunt