CHESTER, United Kingdom — Actor and writer, Matt Damon, is renowned for his dedication to the silver screen. But his work and accolades reach far beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Damon has been a keen and effective philanthropist since he founded H20 Africa in 2006 – which was just the beginning of Matt Damon’s Fight Against Global Water Poverty.
In the 1980s, long before he was walking red carpets, Damon was flying outside of the United States with his mother – his first exposure to water poverty. An exposure, that he states, had a “profound effect” on him.
This effect resulted in H20 Africa; a foundation Damon started to help raise awareness for water poverty. To him, water is the root of “extreme poverty” and the first problem that needs solving before any further progress is possible. It is difficult for Western people to fathom a life without easy access to clean water – as Damon says, “We’re always a few steps away.” But for the people in developing nations, this is not the case.
There are “771 million people that lack access to safe water” – around one in 10 people globally. Besides that, “1.7 billion people lack access to improved sanitation” and “one in four lack access to a toilet.” Because of this and similar issues, water-related diseases cause 1 million deaths each year.
From Africa to Global Stage
Damon points to enlightened experiences he has had on water collections in these developing nations, ones that prove water poverty is all that separates them from the West. In Zambia, Damon has interacted and connected with young girls no older than his children. One surprised Damon with her plans of moving out of her village to become a nurse. “She had all these great dreams… it reminded me of how I was when Ben Affleck and I were 14,” he said in an interview with the U.N. Today.
It was here he realized, without easy access to clean water, people would sacrifice time reserved for dreams on time trying to collect what should be a basic necessity, igniting Matt Damon’s Fight Against Global Water Poverty. Damon wanted to expand his mission from bringing clean water to families in Africa to ending global water poverty entirely. In 2009, humbled and aware of his limited expertise, Damon collaborated with Gary White, an expert in water and sanitation, to create Water.org.
The Game Plan
Water.org values financing and government cooperation in its game plan to defeat poverty. According to its website, there are three main ways Water.org fights global water poverty:
- Partnering with Institutions: Aiding financial institutions in return for loans, as well as assisting water and sanitation providers with delivery. These repayable loans are a major factor in Water.org’s success, providing “3 million loans that pay back at 99%.”
- Expanding Partnerships: Improving and developing solutions through wide collaboration with organizations and foundations, rather than individual sponsors. Damon values partnerships and understands financing is the most important barrier to break to defeat global water poverty – “The problems are so massive in dollar terms; you will never get there with philanthropy alone,” he said to CNBC.
- Strengthening the Environment: Working with governments at a “systems-level” to persuade public practice and change “that increase the flow of capital for household water and sanitation solutions.” Damon has proved himself a spokesman and expert on global water poverty, attending events and meetings such as the World Economic Forum and the World Bank to fight for his mission.
According to its website, since its formation, Water.org has accomplished widespread success:
- More than 52 million people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have access to safe water and sanitation, with added resilience to COVID-19 and other diseases.
- It expanded its work to 11 countries on four continents.
- It achieved more than half of its total impact (26 million people) in the past three years.
- It provided more than 20 million people throughout India, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines with access to safe water and sanitation.
- “Its WaterEquity fund has now grown to $60 million” since its creation in 2017, according to CNBC.
Matt Damon’s Fight Against Global Water Poverty has reached exceeding heights since he first formed H20 Africa in 2006. According to Water.org, because of this, he has also earned the following personal achievements:
- Crystal Award winner from the World Economic Forum in 2014
- Environmental Media Award from The Environmental Media Association in 2013
- TIME 100 most influential people in the world in 2011
Damon is rightly praised for his invaluable contributions to film, but perhaps it is time to show the same appreciation for his work toward ending global water poverty.
“The single most important thing I want (people) to take away from this message is the crisis is solvable. Not ‘hopefully, eventually, theoretically’ solvable, but right here, right now,” he said to U.N. Today.
– Jenny Boxall