How Are Foundations Tackling the Global Water Crisis?

Foundation Funding for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

It’s World Water Day. And for those of us lucky enough to be able to take clean drinking water for granted, the numbers can be difficult to wrap our heads around. Nearly one billion people globally do not have access to safe water and more than two billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. The implications for the physical, economic, and educational well-being of communities, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are far-reaching. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted during last year’s World Water Day events, "The water crisis is a health crisis, it’s a farming crisis, it’s an economic crisis, it’s a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis."

Given the scope and scale of the crisis, what are foundations doing to address the situation?

In conjunction with its work on WASHfunders.org and this week’s World Water Day events, the Foundation Center has released a new research brief that summarizes foundation investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene. Among other things, our findings show that support for WASH issues has been on the rise since 2003. Between 2003 and 2010, the number of funders making WASH-related grants jumped from 24 to 78, and that growth was accompanied by a nearly five-fold increase in the number of organizations receiving grants. In 2009-2010, U.S. foundation funding for WASH issues totaled $144 million, up from $11 million in 2003-2004. At the same time, WASH funding, having grown from 0.2 percent in 2003 to 1.7 percent in 2010, remains a very modest portion of international giving by U.S. foundations overall.

Chart of U.S. Foundation Support for WASH

The research brief also highlights the top funders of WASH initiatives. Among private foundations, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to be the largest funder of WASH programs, with the foundation’s grantmaking comprising half of all WASH funding in 2009-2010. Among corporate foundations, the PepsiCo Foundation leads the way, awarding grants of more than $12 million in 2009-2010.

Philanthropic investments to address safe water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene education are poised to increase in the coming years, with several foundations, including the Margaret Cargill Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, beginning to develop strategic initiatives focused on WASH issues.

For more data on foundation support for WASH, see the full research brief here.