SEATTLE — Matt Damon, a renowned actor for many years, is one of the most active celebrity clean water activists. Damon and Gary White are the co-founders of water.org, an organization dedicated to providing clean and safe water to those in need. While only one in four people have access to clean water in India, approximately 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation facilities, and 768 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources, according to the World Health Organization. Damon initially began his work with clean water in Africa and formed water.org with Gary White in July 2009. White is also the co-founder of WaterPartners.
Water.org is a nonprofit focused on giving access to clean water and sanitation to more of the developing world. The pillars of this foundation include local partners, community ownership, appropriate technology, addressing sanitation and hygiene and measuring and monitoring success. Most importantly, the organization has a very unique feature titled the “WaterCredit Initiative.” This initiative provides new financing options for poor people so they can pay for a toilet in their home or connect to an existing water supply. White and Damon explained how in India they encountered citizens paying up to 125 percent interest to private loan providers in order to secure a toilet for this household. The WaterCredit Initiative provides lower interest rates for the same resources. Water.org focuses on education, from teaching proper hand washing with soap to helping people make the connection between hygiene and sickness. It focuses on teaching people how to store water, how to avoid contaminating it with utensils and how to practice good hygiene by washing hands before preparing food and after changing a diaper.
Access to clean water is also a security issue, as described by Gary White. White shared an anecdote about two girls in India in his interview with CNN: “I mean this news that came out of India this summer with the two girls who didn’t have access to toilets in their home, so they had to wait until the cover of night because of the dignity of this issue, to go out and find a place to defecate. And while they were out they were raped and murdered… That’s just unbelievable that something so basic to humanity like access to sanitation should set up these situations.” Further, lack of access to water has deleterious long-term effects including malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria and stunting.
Matt Damon initially began his activism with a “direct impact” mindset; however, he soon realized that charity will not address the root cause and structural impact of access to clean water. Damon specifically believes in the capacity for citizens to create their own solutions, and he wishes to provide the tools to help people mold their own lives and realities.
– Neti Gupta