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Why Water? Uncovering the Hidden Impact of the Global Water Crisis

Buckle up, water warriors. Matt Damon is on a mission, and he needs your help. Forget Hollywood heartthrob. Matt’s latest adventure involves something far more epic – saving the world, one drop at a time. The charming do-gooder has teamed up with water whiz Gary White. They are tackling a challenge bigger than any rogue asteroid or Martian invasion: the global water crisis. Their weapon of choice? A book – “The Worth of Water: Our Story of Chasing Solutions to the World’s Greatest Water Challenge.” 

Matt Damon, water activist? This is no celebrity vanity project. Damon and his partner Gary White have been knee-deep in this cause for years. This book is their battle cry. They’ll take you on a tour of the parched corners of our planet. You will meet real-life heroes turning the tide, one hand-dug well and solar-powered pump at a time. Damon and White are optimists. They remind us that the smallest actions can create ripples of change. They’ll show you how microloans, education, and community involvement turn a desperate struggle for survival into a story of hope and empowerment.

Matt’s initial encounter with the water crisis unfolded with a question: why water? Why not AIDS/ HIV, education, and other topics so often in the headlines? His quest for an answer led him to Zambia, Africa. There, he saw the harsh reality of contaminated water claiming a child’s life every 20 seconds. Yet, the crux of the issue lies in accessibility. Villages lacked infrastructure. Women and girls to trek for hours to get water, sacrificing education and work. For Matt, the profound truth resonated: “Water is life.”

Five principal concerns afflict the world’s water accessibility according to the book :

  1. Health: Diarrhea, the most prevalent symptom of waterborne diseases, claims more children than malaria, measles, and HIV/AIDS combined. 
  2. Education: Waterborne illnesses result in 443 million missed school days annually. Lack of restroom facilities impedes girls’ attendance, and water-fetching journeys deter others.
  3. Gender Equality: Fetching water almost falls on women and girls.
  4. Economy: The water crisis fuels extreme poverty, incurring billions in costs annually.
  5. Environment: Climate change exacerbates water shortages, particularly for those lacking infrastructure.
The Worth of Water Book standing upright on an end table with large plant in background

We take convenient access to water and sanitation for granted. But Matt saw the societal impact. He soon launched his water non-profit to devise solutions. He sought a water expert as a partner. Gary White, moved by the sight of a young girl lugging sewage-filled water in Guatemala, joined his mission. Gary summarized the reasons behind the failure of prior water projects:

  • American contracts: Mandated wells, drilled by American firms with American parts, leave villagers powerless during repairs.
  • Education: Locals lack knowledge about germ spread, rendering wells ineffective without proper handwashing practices.
  • Culture: Pit latrines feel confining to those accustomed to open spaces, leading to water contamination.
  • Access: Environmental degradation increases the difficulty and cost of obtaining clean water.

Despite extensive efforts in the 1980s, 1.2 billion people still lacked clean water. 1.7 billion had no proper toilets. In 2008, Matt and Gary convened at the Clinton Global Initiative, a fitting setting to address this crisis. Soon, Water.org emerged.

Their initial task involved partnering with local water system experts. They devised sustainable, community-managed systems and established elected water boards to collect fees. This strategy propelled the long-term success rate from 40% to 90%. Also, an unforeseen benefit occurred. Many water board positions were filled by women, elevating their status in the community.

Victories did not come without a cost. Water.org required trillions of dollars to address the entire problem. After all, that was their goal: to solve the issue worldwide. Fundraising consumed time, impeding expansion. While engaging with beneficiaries, Gary and Matt discerned a crucial insight: these women did not seek handouts. Rather, they yearned for equitable investment opportunities. A woman in India, weary of fear and lack of privacy, financed a toilet for her home. She fell victim to predatory 125% interest rates. Gary realized, “This woman didn’t need someone to solve her problems; she needed someone to invest in her so she could solve them herself.” People in poverty often disproportionately pay for water:

  • Some allocate up to 20% of their income.
  • Families lacking toilets pay for multiple daily uses at public facilities.
  • Open defecation contaminates the water they pay for.
  • Waterborne illness hospital visits can cost a week’s wages.
  • Long water-fetching journeys limit earning opportunities.
Person sitting with legs straight out on a couch with a copy of the book, "The Worth of Water" laying on lap.

Water.org observed that poverty-stricken areas spend $300 billion annually to cope with the water crisis. Gary envisioned using small, fair loans instead. Thus, water credit was born. Overcoming initial challenges, they collaborated with financial institutions. They achieved an impressive 97% repayment rate within a few years.

Leneriza, a loan recipient, once spent $60 monthly on water. She installed a tap at home with her loan, reducing her water bill to $10 (including loan payment). This freed up time and saved her $50 monthly to care for her family!

Mama Florence Waswa survived on $3 per day. Hindered by spending most of her day collecting water, she secured a $275 water credit loan. By installing a water pump and storage tank, she gained time for work and became an entrepreneur by:

  • Growing vegetables and raising pigs, ventures impossible without water.
  • Making and selling clay bricks using the water.
  • Adding rooms to her house with the bricks, which she now rents out.
  • Selling surplus water to neighbors.

With these changes, she has enough money to send her grandchildren to school. An accomplishment that affects generational change. Water.org reshaped the narrative; it was no longer a “problem to be solved” but a “market to be served.” Matt and Gary pursued serving as broad a market as possible. By financing the loans themselves through water credit investments, they offered lower interest rates. This scale made the money grow to serve more people. Despite sounding unconventional, they made it work after facing many challenges. Just in time, too, as climate change-induced scarcity issues persist. Matt and Gary must act swiftly to reach communities most affected by rising temperatures. As the book states, “I didn’t think the world needed more reasons to expand people’s access to water, but now there’s another: it will help people adapt to climate change in some of the hardest-hit places.”

As of “The Worth of Water’s” writing, Water.org has mobilized over $3 billion worth of loans for water and sanitation projects. Even more impressive, every dollar has yielded $13 worth of impact due to their investments. They reach over 2 million people every quarter.

Despite all their success, the COVID-19 pandemic intensified their motivation to help. While we diligently washed our hands to prevent the pandemic’s spread, others lacked water access or the knowledge that handwashing saves lives. As we socially distanced in our homes, others had no choice but to venture out for water and restroom use. Demand for water loans surged as families sought to shelter in place and maintain hygiene like the rest of us. Simultaneously, the movement of Water.org’s investments slowed, compounding the damage from COVID-19. As the New York Times article states, “How Do You Fight the Coronavirus Without Running Water?” Not very easily.

Book laying open on lap with pages highlited.

Undeterred, Gary and Matt persisted, focusing on “venture philanthropists.” Including, Andy Peykoff, the Niagara Bottling founder, who invested millions in the water credit fund. With these investments, Water.org looks to its next project—infrastructure. They aim to reach the farthest outskirts. Utilities are the only means to provide water to areas completely devoid of water.

With that project underway, the only group left comprises those unable to afford a loan, regardless of fairness in cost. This group necessitates basic grassroots charity, where you come in. With Water.org, your support becomes a transformative wave. Your dollars swiftly and effectively reach more people with clean water and sanitation. Your donation will aid in the following ways:

  • Improved health
  • Empowered women
  • Increased family income
  • Increased access to education

Ready to join the water warriors? Grab your copy of, “The Worth of Water.” You will be part of a movement to ensure that everyone, everywhere, has access to life-giving water. Because let’s face it, even Matt Damon can’t save the world alone. We need all hands on deck, from Hollywood A-listers to basement bloggers like yours truly. If you’re still not convinced, picture Matt Damon looking at you with those puppy-dog eyes and saying, “Please, help us make a difference.” Who could resist that?

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