Every year, journalists, politicians, authors and newsmakers from our Pacific Northwest community and around the nation come together at the Crosscut Festival to take a hard look at the people, policies and events that shape our lives. And clean water scarcity is one of the biggest challenges we face today.
Damon and White are co-founders of Water.org and WaterEquity. Together, they have worked with partners across the globe to deliver clean or sanitized water to more than 40 million people. They are joining us this year in a conversation with Dr. Leah Stokes, associate professor at University of California Santa Barbara and co-host of the podcast A Matter of Degrees. During a session called “Turning on the Faucet,” Wednesday, May 4, at 3 p.m., Damon and White will discuss their work with Water.org, their new book, The Worth of Water, and what needs to happen.
Before joining us at the festival, Damon and White took the time to chat with Crosscut about their upcoming conversation, the burden women and children shoulder in communities affected by clean water scarcity and how we can help.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What inspired you to dedicate yourself to this project? When did you first realize how people were impacted by the clean water crisis?
Gary White: When I traveled to Honduras in my early 20s, I visited poor communities where I saw first-hand the difficulties faced by those living without access to safe water or a toilet at home. While in one village, I was struck by how many aboveground graves there were, and how small most of them were. Young children were dying due to water-related diseases, like diarrhea. Better water, sanitation and hygiene could save the lives of 297,000 children under the age of 5 each year.
Most of the people collecting water in affected communities are women and girls. Hundreds of thousands of children die every year due to lack of access to clean water. What hope or opportunity do you see in supporting this cause?
Matt Damon: Women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection. They spend 200 million hours every day collecting water. This is time not spent working, caring for family members or attending school. The biggest breakthrough we had at Water.org was when we began to invest in these families. Because of that, today, 43.7 million more people have access to water and sanitation. They are breaking the cycle of poverty, lifting entire communities and making economies more resilient to global shocks like pandemics and climate change.
You will be joining us at the Crosscut Festival in May. What do you hope this conversation will do?
White: I think a lot of people believe problems like the water crisis are so big that they’re permanent parts of life on this planet. The single most important thing we want them to take away from this conversation is that the crisis is solvable. Not “hopefully, eventually, theoretically” solvable, but right here, right now. And the people affected by the water crisis are the very same people who can lead the solution.
So many great global challenges are more solvable than we think — if we seek to empower the people who are facing those challenges and who have great capacity to solve them. That’s how we’ve been able to change 43.7 million lives with safe water and sanitation.
Damon: I would like your audience to come away from our conversation with Dr. Stokes knowing the true heroes of this story. The women who invest in their own and their family’s futures by taking out a small loan and gaining household access to safe water and sanitation. These women are transforming the lives of their families and their communities.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
White and Damon: Yes, please join us in celebrating our access to safe water and sanitation by enabling others to have their own access. Buy the book, The Worth of Water, donate to Water.org or learn about WaterEquity.
Don’t miss Gary White, Matt Damon and other newsmakers at the Crosscut Festival. Get your tickets now.