Delivering The Waters Of Life

An Interview by Robert Masters

As a young man growing up in New York City, Scott Harrison spent 10 years as a party promoter. At the age of 28, he decided that he had not done enough with his life, so he came back to his faith and decided to serve God and the poor in Africa. That led him on a 2-year volunteer journey with Mercy Ships as a photojournalist.

It was during that time that he discovered the problems associated with water quality and quantity issues.  Motivated by what he saw, he set out to raise money with his new non-profit organization, charity: water.

Scott’s goal is to bring clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. His charity gives 100% of the money raised to direct project costs, funding sustainable clean water solutions in areas of greatest need.  Sponsors include actor Hugh Jackman, who has recently donated $50,000 to the cause. To date, charity: water has raised 9 million dollars.

I had the opportunity to catch up with this inspirational innovator on a mission - and ask him twenty questions.

What got you involved with water?

While on the ship, one of my best friends took me into the communities. I saw people drinking green water from swamps I wouldn’t even step in. We were serving on a medical ship there to treat the sick, yet 80% of all diseases was directly attributable to unsafe water and a lack of basic sanitation.

When you saw the problem, how did you come to decide on this course of action?

I wanted to throw my life at service, and start a non-profit organization. The need for clean water was the biggest problem I saw facing the poor, and the first thing I’d tackle.

What exactly does charity: water do?

charity: water is a nonprofit organization that provides clean, safe drinking water to people in developing nations. We work with over 18 partners on the ground in 15 countries to develop sustainable water solutions for the local communities.

How do you select the spots for setting up wells?

Each country is so different. Terrains, cultures, solutions. Each of our partners have different matrixes that help them triage the need. The availability of ground or rainwater, village population, accessibility and quality of current water source are some of the factors that determine the order by which communities are served.


And then - how do you get things going?

Our partners on the ground work with the local community to develop water committees to help oversee and maintain the projects. Labor and materials such as stone, gravel and rock are contributed by villagers. Families contribute small amounts monthly to the committee into a corpus fund for future repairs.


How challenging is it to work with the local officials - are they always keen for the help?

We haven’t had problems with governments, but as a new organization, we have avoided working in conflict zones or areas where our help is not wanted.


What would you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

We’ve been able to serve over 730,000 people in less than 3 years.

Where do you currently focus your activities?

Ten of the fifteen countries we work in are in Sub-Saharan Africa. But we’ve recently expanded to India, Bangladesh, Honduras and Haiti in the past year.

What other regions will you be working in?

We’re currently planning site visits to begin new work in Nepal.

Are there places you are  unable to gain access - but would like to go to help out?

We’d love to help the people suffering in Burma.

What other challenges do people face once a well is in operation?

Water is a great and necessary first step. It allows women to get jobs, children to be in school and reduces health care costs. Water changes everything. But the other issues and challenges still face many of these communities. Many need help with hunger issues, education, women’s rights violations, and human rights violations.

What are your thoughts about private corporations being involved in national water management. Is there room for collaborative partnerships or...?

I do believe there is room for collaborative partnerships.

You caused a bit of a stir selling water in plastic bottles to raise funds - what’s your position on bottled water?

We went green this year, and are now selling eco-friendly Thermos in place of our water bottles. ( BUT, you can read our position and more about why we chose to sell water bottles in the past at

Who is doing good work in the field of water?

Our partners do amazing work. Many have been recognized and awarded for the caliber of their work. You can see more about our partners at

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the world as it relates to water?

The sheer numbers. Right now there are 1 billion people without access to clean, safe drinking water. A sixth of the world. A person dies of a water-related disease every 15 seconds. That’s a big problem.

How should we all be thinking about water?

We’re not about guilt but about opportunity and compassion. We truly believe that individuals can make a difference in the lives of others. Some can give time, others of their talents, others of their money.

Talk about sustainability.  What sort of planning do you do with regards to creating sustainable solutions?  It seems as though in many parts of the world, we are mining water from the ground faster than it is being replenished by rainfall etc.  So, what steps are being taken to create a situation where education and conservation are being applied to maximize the potential for saving water for future generations?


Many of these countries do have extensive groundwater resources. And most of the people we serve use less than 5 gallons of water each day. Here in the US we use almost 150 gallons a day per household. The difference is vast. In some areas, we’re exploring check-dams and other aquifer replenishment solutions.

How good does it feel to be doing what you do?

It’s humbling, challenging and an honor to be able to serve those in need. I try to live by a verse found in James 1:27 of the Bible. It says that “true religion is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep one’s self from being polluted by the world.”

How can people best help others in places where there is a shortage of water?

Donate or spread the word at!

What’s your biggest hope for the future - and your plan on how to achieve it?

I want to see a day where every single person has access to clean and safe drinking water. I’ll keep fighting until we get there.

Thank you Scott - for all that you are doing!

You can learn more about charity:water by visiting their website -

Images courtesy charity: water

InfoDrop: According to the UN, at any given time, 1/2 of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease!


This is a drought year now
Or so they say
You’ve got to use less water, everyday
Commissioner says he’s trying
You and I know he’s lying
Now it’s near

They say they can seed the clouds, and more in time
If you ask mother-nature, that’s a crime
And if we delay an hour, yes we will feel the power
Don’t you care?

Look at my garden, see how lush she grow
What’s my secret… wouldn’t you like to know?
Well, I’ve just been crying for hours
So we won’t lose the flowers
Don’t you cry

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The Drought Song

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It's hard not to think about water today. In the western world, we face growing concerns about our stewardship of the world's most precious resource. There's talk of shortages, evidence of reservoirs and aquifers drying up, and of course, plenty of people who simply don't care.

But forget about us.

Most of us have never really been thirsty. We've never had to leave our houses and walk five miles to fetch water. We simply turn on the tap, and water comes out. Clean. Yet there are 800 million people on the planet who don't have clean water.

It's hard to imagine what 800 million people looks like really, but one in nine might be easier. One in nine people in our world doesn't have access to the most basic of human needs.

Something we can't imagine going 12 hours without.

Here, we'd like to introduce you to a few of those 800 million. They are very real, and they need our help. They didn't choose to be born into a village where the only source of water is a polluted swamp. And we didn't choose to be born in a country where even the homeless have access to clean water and a toilet.

We invite you to put yourself in their shoes. Follow them on their daily journey. Carry 80 pounds of water in yellow fuel cans. Dig with their children in sand for water. Line up at a well and wait eight hours for a turn.

Now, make a decision to help.

We're not offering grand solutions and billion dollar schemes, but instead, simple things that work. Things like freshwater wells, rainwater catchments and sand filters. For about $20 a person, we know how to help millions.