Nearly 900 million people (14 percent of the world’s population) do not have access to safe drinking water. And more than 2.5 billion people (38 percent of the world’s population) live without basic sanitation. Every year more than 3.4 million people worldwide die from diseases related to the lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.
This lack of access also impacts educational outcomes, productivity, and overall economic costs. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 40 billion hours are lost every year due to time spent fetching water. Improved access to clean water would free up this time for other economic activities, especially for women, and allow girls to go to school.
Since 1990, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has contributed $84 million to provide water to about 2 million people in Africa and water-stressed regions in India and Mexico. The Foundation’s water programs have targeted impoverished, semi-arid, and geographically remote areas suffering from low water access and sanitation coverage, and a high incidence of water-related diseases such as diarrhea, trachoma, and Guinea worm. The Foundation has recently pledged another $50 million over the next five years to address the safe water needs of one million people to raise awareness of the water issue and provide the sector with information on best practices.
Of the $6.2 billion given by U.S. foundations for international issues in 2008, only $72 million went toward water issues. Organized philanthropy has failed to effectively address this global emergency due, in part, to a lack of knowledge and awareness of the situation among philanthropists. While most resources come from the public sector, our goal as one of the leading philanthropic organizations in the United States is to establish working relationships with our peers—the Bill and Melinda Gates, Buffett, Case, Skoll, Rockefeller, and Margaret A. Cargill foundations, as well as others who share our sense of urgency—to generate further funding.
There are simple and inexpensive solutions to the world’s water crises, especially among the poor. Foundations can be part of the solution by partnering with others.
Braimah Apambire, Ph.D., is senior advisor for the Hilton Foundation’s strategic plan for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH)