Remarks for the Launch of H2infO

Catherine A. Novelli
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment 
Washington, DC
October 6, 2014

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon everyone and thank you, Judy, for the kind introduction.

I also want to thank Hattie Babbitt of the U.S. Water Partnership, Tim Prewitt of iDE, Tom Kelly of the MCC, Chris Holmes of USAID, and Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie from the Crown Council of Ethiopia for their outstanding support and participation in helping us launch H2infO.

I am also pleased to welcome Ambassadors and others from our foreign diplomatic corps today.

Distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen, it’s an honor to join you today as we transform our diplomatic efforts into a tangible, meaningful result.

When Secretary Clinton launched the U.S. Water Partnership in 2012, she underscored the importance of mobilizing the best and the brightest from across our country to address foreign policy challenges. And water really is one of the great foreign policy, humanitarian, environmental, and economic challenges of our time. Even those of us wealthy enough not to have to walk miles every day to fetch water are not immune to the problem.

Over the past three years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report has named water among the top five greatest global threats. The total economic losses associated with inadequate water supply and sanitation – let alone the untold billions from floods and drought – are estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

But it really isn’t just about the money. It’s about the quality of life – and for too many people, it’s about survival.

Everyone on the planet is a clean water stakeholder. We’re in this together – and it’s only by working together and sharing knowledge and resources that we will continue to survive and thrive.

That’s why we are here today – to celebrate the launch of a new tool for learning and collaboration – H2infO.

Through this web portal, we hope to greatly improve global access to U.S. experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from across the public and private sectors in four key topic areas: water, sanitation, and hygiene; water efficiency and productivity; integrated water resources management; and water governance.

This portal draws on the many challenges and successes that Americans have faced and conquered. Take for example the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA: the TVA took an integrated approach to regional development -- including the development of the Tennessee River -- that brought electricity, jobs, and opportunity to the Tennessee valley. Prior to the TVA, this area, which covers parts of seven southern states, was among the poorest and least educated – with lifespans similar to those in the developing world today. And within just one generation, through an integrated development model, the entire region grew out of poverty. You can find the TVA’s history, legislation, and project information and proposals on the H2infO portal.

Nearby this valley, the Mississippi River - the backbone of trade for the United States and our gateway to the world - taught us both humility and the value of natural systems in managing the impacts of floods and droughts. The H2infO portal includes resources from these experiences along the Mississippi.

And today’s ongoing drought in California, one of the worst in our history, while challenging, is also spawning new approaches to reducing water consumption and improving agricultural efficiency.

Lessons from these and many other examples can be shared through the H2infO portal to help others avoid and learn from our mistakes as well as benefit from our successes. Let me share with you some examples of things you can do on H2infO:

Access a library and on-line toolbox developed by Colorado State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address drought and promote conservation and efficiency;

Download a comic book designed by teenagers in Ghana as part of a USAID-funded project to educate communities on the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene;

Review a report from the National Institutes of Natural Resources on the role of privatization in providing access to basic water and sanitation services in Arizona; and

Utilize an interactive, crowd-sourced tool developed by CH2MHill to help planners make decisions on locating municipal wastewater treatment plants.

This is the exactly the type of hands-on, tangible knowledge that can lead to meaningful progress on the ground on a range of water issues.

Since coming to the State Department, I have prioritized “tech diplomacy,” building on my experience in both the government and private sector. I believe in the power of the Internet to help us share knowledge and resources for those in developing countries struggling to solve water problems. But for the Internet to do its job, you need two things: ease of access and good content. I think H2InfO has already solved the first problem. But the real challenge will be expanding the content.

I hope each of you in the room and those on-line will think about what resources you might be able to contribute. Not only are you supporting developing country efforts to address water and sanitation challenges, you are building awareness and support for U.S. approaches and technologies.

Your efforts matter.

We believe it is in all of our interests to create a more water secure world. A world where people have the water they need, where they need it, and when they need it. People shouldn’t have to live in fear of unsafe water, floods, and droughts.

So join the effort. Contribute to the knowledge base. Support H2infO.

Congratulations to the U.S. Water Partnership and all the members that worked so hard to make this happen.

And, now I’ll turn this over to your moderator – Ambassador Hattie Babbitt, Chair of the U.S. Water Partnership Steering Committee.

Thank you.