An open letter to the water sector on World Water Day

It’s not working. We all know it, and it’s time we start talking about it.

It’s time to start talking about the more than $1.2 billion worth of water infrastructure investment that’s been wasted over the last 20 years on water wells that sit broken today.

It’s time to start talking about the fact that drilling wells and giving away water to communities will never solve the water crisis. It’s time to acknowledge that wells drilled today are a liability that will eventually malfunction, break or become contaminated tomorrow without a self-sustaining business model behind them.

While many of us talk about the sustainability of our projects, typically that only means the water keeps flowing as long as donors keep giving and we keep paying for the upkeep and long-term maintenance.

What happens when we’re not there? What happens if donor funding goes away?

Charity alone will never solve the water crisis. Charity is only effective when it’s used to empower local people with the opportunity to solve their own problems in ways that can be self-sustained locally.

The answer is not more wells. It’s not sending more short-term teams. It’s not better filtration. It’s not more technology.

It’s time to do something different. It’s time for a new approach.

The solution to the water crisis is local people living in the communities where water is scarce. The solution to the water crisis lies in the hands, heads and hearts of those who know it’s tragic affects firsthand.

The water crisis will end when we, as a sector, start planning for and working toward our ultimate obsolescence.

The water crisis will end when we start empowering heroes instead of trying to be the heroes. The crisis will end when we stop giving water away and start equipping local entrepreneurs to provide water service to their communities as a business.

It’s time to admit that charity alone won’t solve the water crisis. It’s time to do something different. It’s time to start empowering people to solve their own water crisis through small water enterprises capable of serving the 2 billion people who lack safe water at home today.

Today, on World Water Day, Water4 is calling all water charities to join us on the path toward obsolescence. As leaders of water sector nonprofits we need to be discontent with our own existence because every day we exist is another day people continue suffering from the injustice of this crisis. It doesn’t have to be this way either. We don’t have to solve the water crisis. The very same people who live with and suffer from lack of safe water on a daily basis can and will solve their own water crisis when we stop trying to solve it for them and start training and supporting them to do it themselves.

Will you join us in empowering, coming alongside and equipping even more local heroes to be the solution to their own water crisis? When we all start doing that, they will make their water crisis history once and for all.

Call us, write us, visit us – you can even yell at us – but please talk with us and let’s start working on our exit strategy.

Matt Hangen
President and CEO, Water4.org
+1 (405) 551-8214


Water4 is an international nonprofit using faith, innovation, and empowerment to reimagine a world free from the water crisis. Water4 equips missional entrepreneurs in developing nations to create lasting economic, physical and spiritual change through market-based safe water solutions. The Water4 approach puts the solutions to local problems in the hands of local people, and ensures that safe water access is sustained by local resources. Since 2008, Water4 has impacted the lives of over one million people in more than 30 countries through the power of safe and living water.

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