COP26: Matt Damon calls on Glasgow audience to ‘see people from water-deprived countries as human beings’

Matt Damon has been speaking about one of the great obstacles to the development of nations: finance for water, sanitation and hygiene

Speaking at the The New York Times Climate Hub on Monday the Academy Award winner joined a panel titled Ensuring Universal Access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

The Good Will Hunting actor joined via a video link an said that the world needed to see “people [from developing countries] as human beings and even as customers, instead of as a beneficiary of some hand-out.”

Sign up to our GlasgowWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He added: “I mean, there’s a reason half the water projects in the world fail.”

Damon is the co-founder of nonprofit organisations Water.org and WaterEquity.

The actor, who stars in Ridley Scott epic The Last Duel, reflected on his experience visiting a rural community in Zambia.

He told the panel that people from ‘the West’ take access to clean water for granted.

He said: “it’s really hard for those of us in the West to relate to this because we’re always so close to a clean drink of water. Our friends have never even been thirsty”

He added: “the water in our toilets is cleaner than the water that nearly a billion people have access to.”

Damon is the latest high profile celebrity to appear at COP26.

Last week Leonardo DiCaprio appeared at the summit, where he promoted the Kew Gardens Carbon Garden display. David Attenborough, Barack Obama and Jeff Bezos have also appeared at the summit.

Risking life for clean water

Damon was joined by Gary White, Co-Founder and C.E.O. of Water.org and WaterEquity and Rose Wamalwa, Co-Founder, Women’s Climate Centers International.

On the importance of water access, White said: “we as a society would never have got to the place where we are if the basic building block of access to water wasn’t there for us”.

He added: “it holds back potential of literally billions of people around the world.”

Describing her first-hand experience of growing up facing these challenges in rural Kenya, Wamalwa said: “the culture is that women and girls are supposed to make sure that there is water in the family, there’s food on the table. It doesn’t matter the distance.”

Wamalwa revealed the life-threatening risks facing those without easy access to water, stating: “one day I was almost raped and these are things you don’t even discuss with your parents, because you have to do it.”