By Matt Damon
My daughters do not know what it is to spend hours collecting water. My girls may suffer the occasional stomach upset, maybe even miss a day of school because of it, but they will never lay dehydrated and dying with only the water available, the very same water that made them sick in the first place. Before I went to Haiti, India and Ethiopia and saw these situations firsthand, I would have found them unfathomable.
Today, nearly 750 million people live without access to safe drinking water, and 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation. This must change. As a father and a husband, I realize how important having access to safe water and sanitation are, especially for women and children—the people who bear the biggest burden of this crisis.
The coping costs of not having sustained access to safe water are enormous and largely undocumented. People are drinking water and paying huge costs to do so. Women and children spend 140 million hours per day collecting water for their families, often from polluted sources. They buy from water vendors or spend hours walking to sources and hauling the water back. They drink water of questionable safety, become ill, adding medical costs, and missed work to the economic burdens they already bear. They cannot go to school or work with the majority of their time spent securing the family’s daily water supply. Can you imagine what could be accomplished if those 140 million hours were recaptured? If all the money spent on buying water was redirected into the water and sanitation supply system?
Given that women and children bear the greatest burden, it comes as no surprise that women are the champions of their households and communities when it comes to obtaining access to a safe, sustained water supply and improved sanitation. I have seen the strength and determination of women who want to change the future for their families. These women form committees and coalitions and they apply for loans through our WaterCredit program. These loans empower women to make choices that best work for them, their families and their communities. They take out small loans as individuals or larger loans as a community. They install wells, build bathrooms, buy rain barrel systems, or tap into the local water infrastructure.
I want to see the day all women have the opportunity to realize their potential. I want children to stop dying at a rate of one every minute from a preventable water-related illness. Join me and help solve this crisis, in our lifetime.