How a trip to rural Zambia led Matt Damon to campaign for clean water
Hollywood superstar Matt Damon told CNBC that a visit to rural Zambia in 2006 opened his eyes for the first time to the impact of a global water crisis that no one was talking about.
The Oscar-winning actor, producer and screenwriter co-founded the nonprofit Water.org in 2009 with former civil and environmental engineer turned global water and sanitation expert Gary White.
Together they have already helped more than 43 million people have access to drinking water and sanitation through WaterCreditan affordable financing program that enables people in need to help themselves with small loans.
Damon was speaking in early April following the release of their new book, “The Worth of Water: Our Story of Chasing Solutions to the World’s Greatest Challenge”. The globally acclaimed star of the blockbuster movie franchise ‘Jason Bourne’ told CNBC he first understood the enormity of the crisis during the visit which was organized by the advocacy organization DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa)co-founded by U2 frontman Bono.
“I found myself… waking up at 35 with this weird platform and I really wanted to do something positive with it and I was really on a journey trying to investigate all these issues of extreme poverty and trying to figure out how I could be helpful,” he said.
“And it was just an issue that was so huge and underpinned everything, and yet no one was talking about it, and that really piqued my interest at first.”
A 14-year-old local girl took Damon on her daily one-mile walk after school to fetch clean water pumped from a well. As they walked and talked, she told him through an interpreter that when she was older she would go to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, to become a nurse.
“And I really connected with that kid because she reminded me of how I felt when I was 14 and Ben Affleck and I were going to the big city of New York, and we were going to be actors, and, you know that feeling that all 14-year-olds should have, that the world is kind of theirs,” Damon said.
He told the latest episode of CNBC’s “Sustainable Future” that the trip to Zambia made him realize that the water crisis was not only responsible for the “senseless” deaths of millions of children who have not access to clean water, but also preventing millions more from reaching their full potential.
“If someone hadn’t had the foresight to dig a well near this girl’s house, she wouldn’t be in school, she would be spending all day collecting water for her family,” he said. he declared.
“So it really got to me, it really got to me, and, you know, the enormity of this issue and how much it affects so many people, beyond sickness and death.”
According to the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one in 10 people in the world does not have access to drinking waterone in four people without access to toilets.
White, an internationally renowned water and sanitation expert and CEO of Water.org, told CNBC that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for the organization, with donations declining.
He said it also “reflects” the disparity between those who have and those who do not have water in the world.
“This crisis .. with Covid, started with telling us to wash our hands with soap and water and do it frequently and vigorously and stay home,” he said.
“And what I knew was that the people we were helping needed us more than ever, because first of all, they didn’t have access to water to wash their hands, they didn’t have access to soap they couldn’t choose to stay home they had to go out and find water You know every morning when you wake up nothing else matters until you find water. It’s as simple as that.