With Matt Damon's pledge to not use a toilet until the world water crisis is solved, I thought I would share my thoughts on how access to the basic human right of clean water is being discussed, and what's being left out of the conversation.
Matt Damon's recent announcement that he's going on a 'toilet strike' went viral, and really accomplished his task of making the world take notice of the issue of access to clean water and sanitation. What it does not do, however, is contextualize the current problems of clean water supply and sanitation in a way that allows us to tackle the systemic problems that manifest themselves in such aspects of abject poverty.
Clean water and access to sanitation are indeed important, but Damon's approach is detrimental in that it further others and marginalizes those in communities that have historically been oppressed by colonization and imperialism and are currently oppressed by neoliberalism and neoimperialism. The wording on his organization's website and that he uses as a whole is incredibly othering; painting the West as the continued place of civilization and those in the Global South as living in savage conditions. Peoples homes are referred to as shacks and communities as slums. It reinforces images of people in the Global South as living not only in deplorable conditions, but conditions in which happiness and joy cannot be experienced because of a lack of material goods (a decidedly capitalist construct of quality of life). Furthermore, organizations like Damon's encourage the West 'saving' the rest of the world from the impoverished conditions they live in without really acknoweding our own historical and current part to play in constructing those daily lived realities of suffering in those communities. The sheer scale of inequality and global poverty we have now manifests itself in a variety of ways, including in lack of access to clean water and sanitation, but it was not created in a vacuum - the sytems that support this were created by the world's powerful intentionally suppressing the majority of peoples through colonialism. We are all implicated in the suffering of others, and it's irresponsible to talk about the lack of what other's have without talking about how the privileges of many in the US and other Western nations is predicated on the suppression of billions.