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Matt Damon: ‘Unconscionable’ That People Die Because of Dirty Water

WASHINGTON – Academy Award-winning actor and screenwriter Matt Damon, co-founder of water.org, said the level of death among children around the world from a lack of clean water and sanitation is “unconscionable.”

Damon said many girls skip school to hunt for water and a child under 5 dies every 90 seconds due to dirty water and sanitation issues. He compared the situation to cancer.

“It’s unconscionable. This is something we solved here in the West 100 years ago. It would be as if we cure cancer tomorrow and in 100 years people are still dying of it totally unnecessarily. And then, on top of that, there’s just like, besides the pointless kind of a needless suffering and death, it’s this massive issue for women and for girls and it just has such an impact on their lives,” Damon said during an “Inspiring Change” discussion with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on Thursday at the World Bank.

“Millions of girls aren’t in school because they are scavenging for water – it’s their job to do that for the family. And so you can imagine what can they expect for the outcomes of their own lives if they aren’t able to go to school and they’re just kind of spending their lives in a pitched battle to make it to the next day,” he added.

Damon, executive producer of the new film Bending the Arc, explained his personal connection to clean water and sanitation issues.

“My mother had taken me to Guatemala and Mexico as a kid just to kind of expose to the way other people lived, I think, and so once I found myself in this position of kind of having success I felt I have this sphere of influence now and I can do something good with it,” he said. “It’s not that cool to talk about water and shit but it’s actually one of the most fascinating things and it really undergirds all these issues of extreme poverty.”

Damon elaborated on his “water credit” initiative, which brings together the tools for “micro-level finance” with the need for safe water and sanitation.

“We grant financial institutions philanthropic capital to build a portfolio of water and sanitation loans at the household level. They source commercial and social impact capital to make the loans,” he said.

“By working with financial institutions around the world, we’ve leveraged $17 million in philanthropic capital to mobilize $280 million in commercial and social capital. Water credit has enabled households living at the base of the economic period to take out 1.2 million small loans for a toilet or tap reaching more than 5 million people. The loans have almost no defaults with a goal repayment rate of 99 percent,” he added.

Kim rounded out the discussion with questions about Damon’s Academy Award-winning film, Good Will Hunting, and his future in Hollywood.

“All of that stuff we wrote except the math formulas,” Damon said.

“I thought you were so smart, man. I thought, damn, that guy is so smart,” Kim said.

“The Howard Zinn stuff we wrote, but I remember Ben [Affleck] saying to me, how are we going to do these formulas? And Ben said, ‘No, no, I know a guy who writes for Star Trek: Deep Space 9. When they get to one of these places they just write “tech tech tech,” and then you fill it in later.’ So that was all the math stuff, that just said ‘tech,’” Damon replied.

He added that the math shown in the movie was real.

“We got a math professor from the University of Toronto, where we shot a lot of that movie. He came in and consulted and wrote all of that for us, and then I would have to memorize it and then write it down on mirrors if I knew what I was doing,” Damon said.

“You are going to be our champion for water,” Kim told Damon before asking him if he plans to continue acting.

“As for doing more movies, it’s going to sound funny but it’s completely up to the audience. If you don’t buy movie tickets then I am out of a job. It’s true,” Damon said. “If you could mass boycott any actor you don’t like, they are gone within like two years – you’ll never see them again.”