January 22nd, 2014
12:00 PM ET
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Editor's note: Matt Damon and Gary White are co-founders of Water.org, a nonprofit that helps communities achieve sustainable water systems. They are participating in the World Economic Forum's annual meeting this week to advocate for universal access to safe water and sanitation. This is one in a series of columns CNN Opinion is publishing in association with the Skoll World Forum on people who are finding new ways to help solve the world's biggest problems.

In separate trips to Guatemala and Zambia in the late 1980s and in the early 2000s, we each saw the devastating effect of the water and sanitation crisis firsthand. We saw a world in which basic needs went drastically unmet - where a lack of safe water and sanitation robbed men, women and children of health, hope and even life.

In the time it takes us to fill a glass of water - about 21 seconds - a child in some part of the world has died because of water-related disease.

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