Keep It Flowing: A Look at a Big Hilton Give for WASH

Students purifying water in uganda

Students purifying water in uganda

Not too long ago, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation announced that it was changing its water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) strategy for the period from 2017 to 2021. We've written before about how these tweaks are playing out in some new grantmaking. But geographically speaking, it seems like not a whole lot changed with the strategy shift. Hilton continues backing WASH groups working in water-stressed regions in Africa, India, and Mexico. And money still often goes out in pretty big chunks, as underscored by a recent grant to Water for People.

Related: Hilton Tweaks Its WASH Strategy

Hilton awarded Water for People $3 million to support its ongoing work in the rural Kamwenge District of Uganda. The grant will help the group connect with local partners to accelerate and scale up its efforts to deliver “high-quality water services to over 100,000 people,” in the region.

What’s interesting about this grant is that officially, Uganda’s safe drinking water coverage is around 80 percent. But the reality tells a different story. Broken infrastructure like pumps and lines means the water that is available is actually low in both quality and quantity. So families—mostly girls and women—are tasked with spending many hours a day collecting water for their families.

The Hilton grant to Water for People addresses a much-discussed problem in the WASH world: Providing access is simply not enough. Solving the world’s water crisis goes far beyond digging wells and installing sewer lines. It’s critical for WASH groups to engage with local community organizations and governments to ensure the sustainability and maintenance of newly installed water and sanitation facilities, systems and infrastructure.

Related: Water World: Caterpillar Sticks With WASH Funding

Part of the Water for People’s $3 million Hilton grant is going toward supporting vital maintenance services. The organization plans to use some of those funds to engage with local institutions to work together to maintain and expand infrastructure and systems as demand increases. As well, it is working with the national government and key stakeholders to use what it’s doing in Kamwenge as a blueprint for achieving SDG 6.

The Hilton Foundation is a stalwart funder of WASH, which is more important than ever as the world dives deeper into a protracted water crisis. Right now, some 783 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean, safe water, and 2.4 billion go without access to adequate sanitation facilities. SDG 6 aims to tackle both these problems by 2030, but in some places, things could actually get worse, as climate changes causes major droughts, including in regions dependent on water from mountain snow pack. Historic droughts are happening worldwide lately, and more of the same—and worse—likely lies ahead. 

Beyond Hilton, there are some determined players in the WASH funding space, like the Ikea, Gates, and Caterpillar foundations—and even celebrities like Matt Damon. Still, the level of private funding addressing this critical challenge isn't even remotely commensurate with its scale.  

Related: Why is Matt Damon Encouraging Everyone to “Buy a Lady a Drink?