Matt Damon's Waterworks
WASHINGTON -- When Matt Damon talks toilets, people listen. By people, I mean me. In the tough-job-but-somebody's-got-to-do-it category, I was invited to a dinner the other night with Damon. (Thanks to David Bradley of Atlantic Media for hosting, and to The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg for arranging the event.)
The unglamorous but important topic was water -- specifically, Damon's organization Water.org, which works to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the developing world.
Water is an issue simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. In the developed world, we assume that water is available at the turn of the tap. Toilets are a given.
"It is very hard for people to relate to this issue because it's not something we've dealt with or anyone we know has dealt with," Damon said. At the same time, he said, water remains "the biggest (issue) of all of them. It underpins every idea of development we have."
-- Every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness.
-- More than three and a half million people die every year from a water-related disease.
-- Women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water.
-- More people have access to a cell phone than have access to a toilet.
Damon became hooked on the issue during a visit to Zambia in 2006. He was in a rural village, walking with a 14-year-old girl to collect water a mile away. As far as that sounds, the relatively short trip was possible only because of a new well that had been drilled nearby -- shortening the time consumed by the daily water haul and enabling the teenager to spend time studying to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse.