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Grant Whittington headshot

Water.org, Bank of America Partner to Bring Safe Water and Sanitation to India and Brazil


A water point in the yard allows Gandhimery and her neighbors in Pillayarkuppam, India, to avoid a 45-minute walk to the nearest community water source.

Water.org received a $3 million grant over three years from Bank of America to unlock safe drinking water and promote sanitation practices for more than 250,000 people in India and Brazil. The grant will enable Water.org to effectively expand its microfinance practice, WaterCredit, which gives small loans to people struggling to afford essential sanitation systems like water connections and toilets.

Water.org, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Gary White and actor Matt Damon, will use $2 million of the grant to provide market-based solutions to people in India. The remaining $1 million will be deployed in Brazil, where 5 million people lack access to safe water and 25 million lack access to improved sanitation. Last year, Water.org certified its first microfinance institution in Brazil and is looking to scale up its WaterCredit initiative “in this new, top-priority geography.”

India’s struggle with sanitation is well documented—the United Nations reported that nearly 600 million of India’s 1.3 billion people openly defecate. The solid waste from open defecation often finds its way into waterways that are used for drinking and cooking water. This puts hundreds of millions of people at risk of contracting a slew of diseases, including cholera and diarrhea. In India, the World Bank links one in 10 deaths to poor sanitation.

Water.org has worked in India since 2005, using its staple WaterCredit microfinance initiative to help more than 7 million people access safe water and sanitation.

The Indian government is also looking to combat open defecation—albeit using controversial methods of public shaming and a “take the poo to the loo” campaign. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a top priority to end open defecation, ambitiously vowing that every Indian will have access to a toilet by October 2019. One financial report showed that India spent $106.7 billion in 2015—or 5.2 percent of its GDP—to build latrines, promote safe sanitation and install toilets.

Water.org’s market-based approach goes beyond providing people in need with sanitation solutions. Distributing loans to rural, often unbanked people gives them the opportunity to repay the loan and build credit, credit that they may use to leverage a future loan and start a small business.

Improved water access also frees up time, particularly for women. UNICEF found that women and girls around the world spend 200 million hours each day collecting water. The hours saved collecting water for their families, coupled with the time not spent caring for their constantly ill children, could unlock new economic and educational opportunities for women and girls.

“Just imagine—those 200 million hours add up to 8.3 million days or more than 22,800 years,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF’s global head of water, sanitation and hygiene. “It’s as if a woman started with her empty bucket in the Stone Age and didn’t arrive home with water until 2018.”

Image credit: Water.org via Flickr

Grant Whittington headshot

Based in Atlanta, GA, Grant is a nonprofit professional and freelance writer passionate about affordable housing and finding sustainable approaches to international development. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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