SEATTLE, Washington — Matt Damon is best known for his A-list acting and Academy Award-winning screenwriting, but he is also a co-founder of a global nonprofit organization working to bring clean water and sanitation to those that need it most. The nonprofit Water.org is currently operating in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The results have been inspiring. Thanks to the efforts of Water.org, 30 million people can now “turn on a tap” for clean drinking water “and safely use a toilet.”
Matt Damon, Gary White and Water.org
As Matt Damon rose to prominence in Hollywood, he recognized the impact of the global water crisis in impoverished countries and resolved to make a change. The result was Water.org’s predecessor, H20 Africa Foundation. Damon helped found H20 Africa in 2006 with a core mission to raise awareness about the lack of global access to clean, safe water. The organization had some success, but Damon realized he needed expert personnel on the ground to tackle the global water crisis and improve the lives of those lacking access to safe water.
The end of that search came during the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City. There, Damon met Gary White, an engineer internationally recognized as a water and sanitation expert. The two realized that together they could bring clean water to millions. In 2009, they united H2O Africa and Water Partners International to create Water.org.
Water.org and Microfinancing
The success of Water.org is powered by its microfinance programs, which provide affordable loans to households that lack access to clean water and sanitation. The process is simple and effective, breaking down financial barriers for people living in poverty.
Water.org’s WaterCredit Initiative uses its resources and expertise to help local financial institutions add water and sanitation loans to their portfolio of offerings. The majority of people living in impoverished countries with limited access to clean water pay high rates to obtain clean water and household water and sanitation solutions when in reality the cost of having daily access to safe water is substantially lower.
Affordable financing that allows those in need with the opportunity to pay back their loan through a long-term plan can provide many with dependable access to water. As a result of microfinancing, households in need can access these manageable loans and purchase clean water taps or toilets. After a borrower repays the loan that money then becomes a loan to another household in need. In total, Water.org has helped distribute more than $2.3 billion in loans, and 99% of those loans have been repaid.
Those loans have many positive ripple effects. When a household stops spending countless hours in search of water it can focus on other activities such as education and entrepreneurial ventures. Additionally, increased accessibility to clean water and sanitation is directly linked to increased life expectancy. Furthermore, local contractors are installing the systems these loans help purchase. All of those ripple effects have massive health and economic benefits for local communities.
“Access to water is access to education, access to work, access above all to the kind of future we want for our own families and all the members of our human family,” states Damon in Water.org’s platform.
The Long Road Ahead
Water.org has made tremendous progress, but more work is needed. About 801,000 children under the age of 5 die from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe drinking water each year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moreover, approximately 10 million people become visually impaired or irreversibly blind due to a trachoma infection brought on through poor sanitation. Additionally, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation contribute to at least 9.1% of all global diseases and 6.3% of all deaths.
Obstacles to Global Water and Sanitation Access
Poor infrastructure is one obstacle to accessing clean water across the globe. Many developing countries simply lack the necessary structures or funding to provide clean water access. Moreover, many households in need lack the required funds to purchase adequate sanitation or reliable tap water systems. Addressing that obstacle is Water.org’s main concern.
Another looming obstacle to globally accessible water is the increase in the global population. Most of the population increase will come from developing countries where water is already an extremely scarce resource. The issue of clean water and sanitation is daunting. However, there is hope that global efforts will lead to global accessibility as more people begin to understand its importance and more resources are available.
Water.org is not alone in its fight to provide clean water worldwide. It has partnered with large corporations like Ikea and Stella Artois as well as received $7.6 million from individuals in 2019. Other notable nonprofit organizations striving to provide clean water and sanitation to the world’s poor are Water for Good, Blood: Water and Pure Water for the World.
Clean water and sanitation are basic human needs. With support from nonprofit organizations, funding and innovative loaning strategies such as Water.org’s microfinancing, global access to clean water and sanitation could soon be within reach.
– Cole Penz