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Healthy Water, Healthy People

March 2017

I am pleased to announce that GIH is partnering with a collaborative of funders known as the Water Funder Initiative (WFI) to launch “Healthy Water, Healthy People,” a yearlong initiative that will highlight the importance of this issue and explore philanthropic partnerships. WFI’s funders are deeply committed to healthy water systems, and we look forward to working with them.

When it comes to our health, we tend to take water for granted. But as we have been reminded recently, failures within our fragile water systems can quickly become public health disasters. What is worse is that the people who are hit hardest typically live in our most vulnerable communities.

In places like Flint, Michigan; California’s Central Valley; and Elk River, West Virginia, hundreds of thousands of people have been living on bottled water. They cannot turn on their taps to get a drink, brush their teeth, or take a shower. Lead, agricultural runoff, and other chemicals have poisoned their water, and the health consequences will likely haunt these families and children for generations.

It is tempting to think of these stories as isolated incidents, triggered by natural phenomena, or human incompetence. But a recent Harvard study shows that people in more than 30 states may have unsafe drinking water. That is because the real causes of these crises are embedded in our water systems, which need billions of dollars in improvements before they can handle everything we are demanding from them now, let alone in the future. In the meantime, the growing strain on these systems increasingly jeopardizes America’s health.

Clean, safe drinking water represents the most elemental connection to human health, but it is far from the only one. Nutritious food, good jobs, outdoor play—our overall quality of life—depends on a reliable supply of fresh water. In short, when we manage our water well, people and nature tend to thrive. When we do not, our health suffers. Add climate change to the mix, and it becomes apparent why a sharper focus on water is needed.

Many health funders have taken on water as an important issue in their communities. But with water playing such a critical role in health and development, it is important to break down funding silos and help forge a water and health agenda with funders from the environmental, social equity, and other sectors. GIH is looking forward to contributing to this cross-sector effort.

Be on the lookout over the next year for more information in an upcoming Views from the Field, webinars, and annual conference programming. We welcome your thoughts and participation in this critical initiative.