For most people in the United States and other western nations, water is ubiquitous. Most of us live and work within a few feet of a clean water source, which is as close as the nearest tap or drinking fountain. Many of us take 15-minute showers, or leave the tap running for 5 minutes while we brush our teeth, with little thought to where water comes from. But for a good portion of the world’s population, access to clean water is far less reliable, if it exists at all.
The lack of awareness about limited water access has driven Matt Damon to do something a little crazy: pledge not to go to the bathroom until the global water crisis is solved. In a parody video, Damon announces his ‘Toilet Strike’ to humorously kick of a social campaign which invites the public to Strike With Me. Using “potty humor” to bring attention to his cause has been pretty successful, attracting more than 1 million views to the website for more about these issues.
Here are some of the hard facts that Matt Damon was trying to get across:
· 780 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water.
· More than three times that number—2.5 billion people—do not have access to toilets
· 3.4 million people die each year from waterborne diseases.
· Women around the world spend 200 million hours every day searching for and fetching water.
Numbers like that can be staggering, even overwhelming. The scope of the problem can seem too large for any person or group to take on. But Matt Damon doesn’t see it that way. Neither do the people at Water.org, a non-profit formed in 1990 and then reorganized by actor Matt Damon and his collaborator Gary White in 2009. For Water.org, the global water crisis is serious, yes, but not impossible to solve. The believe solutions are well within reach and have made it their mission to find, fund, and implement sustainable long-term solutions which tackle the global water crisis.
Water.org partners with pre-screened local organizations in different countries, conducts field visits to determine project feasibility, and interviews potential staff and community members before agreeing to fund efforts to improve sanitation, irrigation, and water-delivery systems. They also insist that women in the communities be involved in planning and implementation of these projects because women bear a most of the burden of supplying water for families.
Typically, Water.org does not find projects; the projects find them. Local communities in need of water or sanitation improvements contact the organization and apply to be considered for funding. A local water committee is established, with women being the majority of the members, and then planning and funding arrangements are worked out. Communities share in the cost of the projects, investing at least 10% of the funds required.
Because the lack of knowledge of good hygiene would make improved infrastructure or water-delivery systems of little effect, Water.org also runs hygiene and sanitation seminars while their projects are being implemented. The organization has also established a WaterCredit finance initiative that makes microloans to individuals for water and sanitation projects. Repaid loans are then channeled to other projects around the world.
To date, Water.org has funded hundreds of projects in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kenya, and Uganda, parts of Latin America. In recent months they have focused particular attention on the need for toilets and safe sanitation, with actor Matt Damon announcing his toilet strike for World Water Day on March 22nd. Damon’s humorous videotaped announcement drew attention to the very serious cause that drives him and his organization: providing the world’s poor with clean water and safe sanitation in order to save lives.
– Délice Williams
Sources: Water.org Fast Co-Create