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INTERVIEW

DR. RICHARD THORSTEN CHIEF IMPACT OFFICER, WATER.ORG

“Wherever we can empower people to solve their own water and sanitation problems, they can break the poverty cycle” Water.org has been working to provide access to water and sanitation to the world for more than 25 years. Now more than ever, their work is critical to curb disease spread and build resiliency for the future.

Z The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to accelerate access to safe water and sanitation for all, to reduce the impact of this and future pandemics. The global nonprofit Water.org helps people get access to safe water and sanitation through affordable financing, such as small loans. They provide life-changing resources, bringing hope, health, and a bright future to families. We interview Richard Thorsten, Chief Impact Officer, who leads the team responsible for working with financial institutions, water and sanitation enterprises, and other sector leaders, to learn about the approach they use to empower millions of people in need with access to safe water and sanitation. What is your assessment of the progress made worldwide regarding SDG 6 on access to water and sanitation?

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Cristina Novo Pérez

The SDGs were designed to be ambitious and push the global community to take unprecedented actions. We raised the bar significantly – what would have been considered “A” achievement under the Millennium Development Goals would be considered a “C” under the new standards. In 2018, the United Nations conducted an assessment of progress towards SDG 6 targets. Given the intentional ambition of these goals, their findings were not a huge surprise – the world is not on track. Billions of people still lack safe water, sanitation, and handwashing facilities: 844 million lack basic water services, 1.2 billion lack safely managed water, 5.4 billion lack access to safely managed sanitation and 892 million still practice open defecation. Only 27 percent of the population in least-developed countries has access to soap and water for handwashing on-premises – a

shortcoming with consequences that have never been so widely apparent as they are now amidst our global struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a glass-half-full perspective to the facts, however. In the period between 2016 till March 31, 2020, 25,349,376 people accessed household water and/ or sanitation through the efforts of Water.org and its finance partners on the ground across 13 countries. Since 2016, more organizations have seen the data and embraced similar financing approaches to water and sanitation access in their solutions to the challenge. Moreover, the water and sanitation community now talks extensively about innovative finance that blends donor contributions with commercial capital as part of the solution, something that was rarely happening before. We’re getting smarter as a group and we’re working more collabora-

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