U.S. Government Water Policy Brief
“It’s not every day you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment, and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares, cares about you and your welfare. Water is that issue.”
-- US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, World Water Day 2010
The Global Water Challenge
Water is fast becoming one of the world’s great development and diplomatic challenges of our time. Growing populations, expanding economies, and climate change are putting water resources under increasing pressure. In just 15 years, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live under water-stressed conditions, and in 20 years, the world’s demand for freshwater is expected to outstrip global supply by 40 percent, if there are no significant reductions in inefficiency and waste.Even after 10 years of improvements engendered by the Millennium Development Goals, one and a half million children still die each year from diarrheal diseases related to poor drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. Moreover, water scarcity and degrading water quality will further increase disease, undermine economic growth, limit food production, and become an increasing threat to peace and security. To meet this enormous challenge, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced last World Water Day that the USG would establish water as a top foreign policy priority. The U.S. government strongly believes that investments in water and sanitation will translate into improved health, greater economic sustainability and a safe living environment for everyone – and everything - on the planet. This is particularly true for women and children, who are disproportionately impacted by these issues.
Coordinating Diplomatic Efforts
The U.S. government is working with donor countries and international organizations to raise international awareness to address critical needs, to encourage developing countries to prioritize water and sanitation in national plans and budgets, and to integrate water into global food security, health, and climate change initiatives. To defuse potential conflicts over water, we encourage regional cooperation and strive to build local capacity through our diplomatic engagement in regions where water is a shared resource. We believe that with support, transboundary cooperation – rather than conflict – can become the rule. For example, the U.S. supports the Regional Water Databanks Executive Action Team (EXACT) in the Jordan River Valley, which brings together Israeli and Arab water professionals to increase data-sharing and information on water resources. We also support the Good Water Neighbors project launched by Friends of the Earth Middle East, which has fostered cooperation along the Jordan River by Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian communities who equally depend on its’ waters. We are a longstanding supporter of the Nile Basin Initiative as well as activities in several other critical basins throughout the world. While cooperative management of shared surface waters is critically important, we also recognize that groundwater represents the majority of the world’s accessible fresh water. Over 260 basins in the world are shared by two or more countries, making regional cooperation and greater technical understanding vital to conserving adequate supplies of fresh water and maintaining peace.
Building Capacity through New Partnerships
Water is a global issue that requires the attention of local, national and regional public, private and civil society actors. Our aim is to strengthen the institutional and human capacity of nations to efficiently and effectively access and manage water. To this end, U.S. government agencies, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and USAID, are collaborating with international partners to help countries in need create national plans for water and sanitation. MCC is working with countries on water and sanitation infrastructure projects, such as its recent $275-million Jordan Compact. USAID’s focus is on rural and peri-urban solutions and on improving water governance. The U.S. government is encouraging the sharing of technology, peer-to-peer learning and best-in-class solutions through university partnerships and scientific exchanges, such as our Science Envoys program and the Middle East Desalination Research Center. We are also working with regional partners to establish the Middle East and North Africa Water Center Network (MENA WCN). In addition, the United States contributes to and partners with many international organizations that support water, sanitation and health (WASH) projects around the world, such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and UN Water. We are partnering with the German government to support the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) to increase African capacity to identify and address regional water challenges. An ongoing partnership between USAID and Coca-Cola called the Water and Development Alliance has mobilized more than $28 million since 2006, and has provided improved water access to some 500,000 people in 20 developing countries.
Sharing Science and Technology Solutions
While there is no simple technological fix for global water challenges, our approach recognizes the potentially game-changing role of innovation. For instance, while we can quantify the volume of potable water in rivers and lakes, it is much harder to gather information about below-ground aquifers, which cannot be mapped using traditional land surveys and cartographic tools. U.S. technical agencies have developed new remote sensing platforms that allow us to detect changes in groundwater levels from space. When combined with ground-level measurements, they allow a better understanding of certain aquifers. This has especially important implications for drought-prone regions throughout the world, where changing rainfall patterns are devastating agricultural livelihoods. To predict floods and famine, the U.S. employs other satellites and ancillary measurements, and shares this information with vulnerable nations through a free and open exchange of data. For instance, NASA’s new SERVIR earth observation platform will be used to help Himalayan nations improve their response to flood disasters. The USG also encourages the deployment of existing low-tech solutions such as sand filters, solar disinfection, and household water purification that can be built from local materials and scaled up through market-based mechanisms. And, we are identifying and fostering break-through technical solutions through a variety of programs, such as USAID’s newly established “Development Innovations Venture” and the joint NASA-State-USAID “LAUNCH” program.
Leveraging New Financial Resources
Since the 2005 passage of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act (//2009-2017.state.gov/e/oes/water), the U.S. government has provided a total of $3.4 billion for the water sector and sanitation to developing countries around the globe. We also contribute to UN organizations and multilateral development banks through our annual dues and through special multi-donor trust funds related to water projects. And, while we are working with other bilateral and multilateral donors to ensure that our aid is targeted and effective, we recognize that the world’s combined official development assistance is inadequate when confronted with the water challenges we face. Hence, USG financial institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID’s Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade Bureau and its Development Credit Office and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) are working to leverage and mobilize additional private capital for the water sector. In China, for example, USTDA, EPA and the Department of Commerce have partnered with four U.S. trade associations and their member companies to share best practices to ensure water quality and reuse. Moreover, to access small and medium-scale financing, the USG is partnering with NGOs, microfinance institutions and private banks to catalyze micro- and meso-finance projects that often benefit difficult-to-reach communities – women and their families, small entrepreneurs, community-based organizations.
As Secretary Clinton said last World Water Day, “By focusing on our strengths and leveraging our efforts against the work of others, we can deliver results that are greater than the sum of their parts.”.