water treatment facility

In drought, using the sun to produce clean water

An innovative use of solar tech provides the world's most precious resource to those who need it most

Great progress has been made to provide clean water and sanitation to people throughout the world, but there is still much work to be done. In fact, the CDC estimates that 780 million people still do not have access to safe water. For those who go without, the impact is felt broadly—through higher rates of infectious diseases, infant mortality and impaired cognitive development.footnote1

For example, during a 4-year drought, villagers of Kiunga, Kenya, were forced to rely on brackish water and suffered a variety of health consequences because of it. That changed in 2018 when the GivePower Foundation built a solar-powered desalination system capable of producing drinking water for up to 35,000 people daily.

Woman carrying bucket of water

With access to clean water, the respite for villagers was immediate. In addition to improved health, the community now has the opportunity to thrive: hours spent previously collecting fresh water can be put toward long-term benefits such as education or commerce. In fact, the United Nations and the World Health Organization have found that every dollar invested in water and sanitation yields a $4.30 return in the form of reduced health care costs alone.footnote2

Accelerating change

The success of the Kiunga project underscores the importance of public, private and non-profit cooperation in solving large-scale problems such as clean water access. Nonprofits don’t have the resources to solve global issues on their own, and governments are often restricted in their ability to create effective policy. Private capital is a vital third element that can overcome such barriers and catalyze solutions that create meaningful change. “We want to organize private sources of capital to close the funding gap that exists between what government and non-profits are doing to address these sustainable development goals,” notes Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO. “Seed capital from private sector investors can attract broader investment in projects that otherwise won’t get done.”

Every dollar invested in water and sanitation yields a $4.30 return in the form of reduced health care costs alone.

In November 2018, Bank of America created a $60 million Blended Catalyst Finance Pool to finance sustainable development in emerging and developing parts of the world.footnote3 In 2019, the bank announced another $250,000 grant to GivePower to provide solar desalination systems to communities in need—bringing the bank’s overall funding of GivePower to $2 million, which has supported more than 1,800 schools and 20 microgrids.

People spraying water hoses

Using capital from public and non-profit sources can help to mobilize additional investments from the private sector—investments that might not otherwise be available to fund unproven or at-risk projects. It’s one way innovative thinking around finance is helping to address global-scale challenges—such as climate change or ending disease and hunger—and making them feel less insurmountable.

Originally published 2/3/2020