Special Briefing on World Water Day

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade Michael Yates
Washington, DC
March 22, 2010

MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. To lead off the briefing today, we are joined by colleagues and friends – Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and USAID Acting Administrator Michael Yates who will talk about World Water Day and some of the background behind the Secretary’s speech this morning.


And we’ll start off with Maria.


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you, P.J. Good morning. Today marks the water – the World Water Day. It’s a day in which we recognize the critical role that water plays in our world.


This morning, Secretary Clinton gave a speech at the National Geographic calling for a renewed focus on water as a global imperative. With this renewed focus, water becomes an integral component of our current foreign policy priorities. From climate change to global health to food security, water is fundamental in the success of our initial work. Water scarcity is also crucial in our national security. The U.S. is committed to effectively integrating water into these – into its foreign policy priorities and simultaneously elevating the issue of water as a stand-alone priority.


Secretary Clinton reinforced the United States commitment to addressing global water challenges by increasing access to drinking water and sanitation, improving water resource management, and increasing the productivity of water resources.


Let me just give you a couple of pieces of data, which I think make it clear what the water challenges we face today are. By 2025, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be living under water-stressed conditions. And approximately 1 billion people will face absolute water scarcity. The diseases from unsafe water and poor sanitation will be the second leading cause of death for children under five in the world. Women lose many productive hours gathering water, going to and from, on a daily basis in order to gather it for their families. Too many girls drop out of school because they have to worry about sanitation issues, and at a time of adolescence, end up dropping out for that reason. Women are exposed to unsafe conditions as they gather water. It increases the likelihood of gender-based violence, of human trafficking. Additionally, water today means that 70 percent of fresh water is used for agriculture, so we need to find ways to improve water storage or reduce the use of it. Climate change is also affecting the access to water.


In my own lifetime, I’ve seen the Chacaltaya glacier in my own native country – Bolivia – melt entirely. Once it stood as a monument to the ages and we all went skiing there. Today, it’s gone. And I think as we begin to see that around the world, we will see that we need to address some of the issues related to climate change as well, as it comes in.


Additionally, there are more than 260 river basins today, which is the home for over 40 percent of the world’s population, that are shared between two or more countries around the world. As resources of water become more and more scarce, the tension between and among these countries will potentially increase and will become a potential source of conflict in our world.


The U.S. will continue to strengthen the capacity of governments to develop and implement sound plans and strategies and support the establishment and the strengthening of regional dialogues for shared water. We will continue to work with international partners in support of these efforts, as we know partners – and particularly the World Bank – have spent a great deal of time and effort in working in this, as have several agencies of the United Nations.


No country alone can address the global water and sanitation challenge. Countries themselves have to take a leadership role, have to prioritize water and sanitation issues in their own national development plans and in their own strategies, and they have to lead in-country processes that can assure that the water decisions that they’re making are effective and long term in their planning.


We want to ensure that no person dies from a preventable water-related disease and that water doesn’t become an impediment to socio-economic development or a threat to peace and security. These are the major messages that the Secretary gave in her speech this morning.


And before finishing, I think, Mike Yates will follow me, from AID. I did want to tell you that the National Geographic has produced a water-only issue, again, extending their own commitment to addressing the kinds of issues that we as a planet have to face.


MR. YATES: Good morning and, for the record, I am the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade of the U.S. Agency for International Development.


This morning at the National Geographic Society, Secretary Clinton showed her leadership and commitment on the Global Water Initiative. And we at USAID work closely and cooperatively with Under Secretary Otero and others at the State Department in advising the Secretary on the details of water policy, and are excited about following through on the Secretary’s strong leadership by fully integrating water programming within the major development initiatives on climate change, food security, and global health.


Our administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, has impressed upon us his own vision of the importance of water for human health, food security, economic and social development, and global security. He insists that our water investments will be fully evidenced based and carefully targeted to make the best use of the hard-earned resources provided to us by the American people.


To this end, three core principles guide our water programming: First, country ownership from communities to the national level, including governments and other key stakeholders. Second, we want to focus on catalytic investments that play to our comparative advantage and help us get the greatest rate of return in terms of transformational impact; for example, using our resources strategically to support an enabling environment for better and more effective investments in water supply, sanitation, water resources management and water productivity. And third, sustainability to ensure long-term value, financial, social, governmental, and environmental sustainability, including taking into account the impacts of global climate change.


In accord with these principles, USAID spends on average roughly a half of billion dollars annually in over 70 countries around the world on water supply, sanitation and hygiene, water productivity, water resources management, and disaster preparedness – related disaster preparedness.


Most of these funds are directed through field-based planning and programming processes. And, in fact, experience has shown that this country-led planning process allows us to fully integrate water into other aspects of development and governance, leading to better results for the people in developing countries and for the American taxpayer.


Thank you very much.


QUESTION: I’ve got a question. Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Raghubir Goyal, India Globe. There are many disputes going on, as far as – over water in many countries, among those countries as far as water is concerned, including in South Asia. What kind of program do you have in India as far as U.S.-India, as far as safe water, drinking water? Because there is a problem also in water in India, and in the region.


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: I think Michael Yates can answer some of the questions directly that AID is working on, and particularly on safe drinking water. But from the perspective of the disputes among countries, there is no question that especially in those countries where there is scarcity already, we already see countries trying to reach agreement and in some cases expressing considerable tension between them.


This is precisely the issue that we want to be able to help ameliorate. And we went to be able to create the increased capacity among countries to be able to dialogue with each other, to be able to reach agreement in those rivers that they share and to be able to plan long term into the next decade and the following decade, and the way in which they’re going to use their sources of existing water and the way in which they’re going to share the water that they have.


Maybe you want to address this --


MR. YATES: Sure. Thank you. Thank you for your question. As the Under Secretary mentioned in her remarks, roughly 70 percent of all fresh water goes into agricultural uses. And the reason why I reiterate that is to just point out that there are competing uses for water resources in many, many of the countries that we work in. And the issue of conflict mitigation is one that also needs to be focused on within country contexts – again, related to competing uses for water between agriculturalists and pastoralists, between industry and between urban areas. So the issue of addressing water supply and water demand is extraordinarily important for USAID, and it’s one that we’re giving increased emphasis to.


With respect to what we are doing specifically around the world, in 2008, which is the most recent year for which we have all of our numbers in, we actually have helped provide improved access to water for six million people around the world. And for four million of those, it’s first-time access to improved water. With respect to sanitation, which is also extraordinarily important, we have helped provide access to sanitation for seven million people. And just over two million of those are first-time people as well. In other words, for the first time, they have access to improved services.


And when we think about the specific kinds of interventions, I’ll just say briefly that there are things we know work well. There are cost-effective solutions to help deal with the extraordinarily important problem of water-borne illnesses that the Under Secretary mentioned in her remarks. For example, focusing on water sources to ensure that they are good quality, that, in and of itself, has an enormous impact. Focusing on improving the way water is stored and water is delivered also has an extraordinarily important impact. Things like hand-washing – something as simple as hand-washing at critical times, obviously associated with meal preparation and after human defecation, can reduce water-borne diseases by as much as 45 percent. So there are important things that we are doing and that we intend to continue doing with our partner countries.


QUESTION: But to just quick follow, aren’t there any special program between U.S. and India as far as water connections are concerned? Like, recently both countries had a special mission on the moon looking for water.


MR. YATES: Perhaps after this briefing, we can get together and then we can talk about providing additional information.


QUESTION: Yeah. Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. To be more specific, as you know, there has been long-pending dispute, water dispute between India and Paksitan. And as you have rightly said, this is an issue of national security concern for the U.S. Do you think this commission of tension between India, water could be a reason for escalation of tension between India and Pakistan in near future? And given that Pakistan has sought U.S. intervention in resolving the dispute, what are your plans? Can you elaborate on that?


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: What we want to make sure that we can do is help countries avoid conflict over water. The potential for conflict over it exists not only in Pakistan and in India but in other places as well. So the effort is to elevate water in our diplomatic engagement with countries, to help countries increase their own capacity to address these issues, and as the Secretary mentioned today, to bring some of the forces that we can to help not only manage the existing water but also find ways to increase the supply of water. So the issue is the recognition of water as a potential source of conflict in our elevated effort to address it with greater priority than we have in the past.


QUESTION: But are you specifically talking with India and Pakistan on this issue?


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: I think we’re beginning to do that. And indeed, part of the discussion that is going on, we are quite aware is between the two countries. The role that the United States would play in any kind of existing relationship between two countries is one that has to be carefully focused, and whereas in some cases it can play a diplomatic role and help improve countries’ ability to dialogue with each other. In other places, it probably needs to stand back and just let the countries move forward. So it really does vary from situation to situation.


QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: I want to raise the same question. This is (Inaudible), and I want to pick up on the same question which has been asked. Given the U.S. caution in terms of mediating between India and Pakistan, and given India’s position for the last couple of decades that the United States cannot mediate between India and Pakistan, and the issues have to be settled – regional issues, for instance like Kashmir, have to be settled through bilateral dialogue and engagement. But water is clearly a transnational issue, and – as, throughout your briefing, you mentioned. Will the United States now be willing to help India and Pakistan come towards a closer dialogue and engagement on the issue of the water? Because, clearly, the way the situation is in Pakistan, Pakistan is extremely water stressed, and all the rivers into Pakistan are actually coming from India, and India is making dams on them. So there’s a lot of potential for conflict or, if not an active conflict, there’s a lot of bad attitude in South Asia. So will the United States be abandoning its old policy of caution and taking a more robust action?


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: We’re clearly aware of the enormous importance, especially as you look at upstream and downstream countries and they look at water. I think the message that we’re sending today is that the United States is elevating the role that it seeks to play in issues related to water. Whether it will become the mediator in any particular conflict is not something that we’re prepared to say right now.


But nevertheless, this speech by the Secretary and this added emphasis in being able to bring resources to bear to this issue and elevating it in the work that we’re doing diplomatically suggests that we will, in some cases, be able to make that move in the direction that you’re addressing. But we’re not, at this point, saying that the U.S. is now going to change its policy. I think we need to work on this some and find ways to make sure that especially in the Pakistan-Indian case, we can help move that situation forward to an improved situation.


QUESTION: If I just --


MR. CROWLEY: Maria, just to add to that, in the Strategic Dialogue with Pakistan on Wednesday, among the six pillars of –


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Is water. That’s number three.


MR. CROWLEY: Water and energy is one of those categories.


QUESTION: If I can spend 15 seconds more, you yourself mentioned that 70 percent of the water is being used for agricultural purposes. And water is not merely water, is not the word “water.” The water is related to economic development –




QUESTION: -- to agriculture, to sustenance of life, to health and hygiene, to life itself. So it is a totally, entirely different nature of problem that is now confronting the world.


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: You’re right; it touches on everything. And I think, as Mike Yates has said, part of the role that we have, especially what has to do with agriculture, is look very carefully, work very carefully, especially with those countries that are sharing water and those countries in which water is scarce, to address very carefully how it is that we are using water, especially in agriculture. There’s an enormous amount of waste that takes place. There’s an enormous amount of space to work on to increase the efficiency, to bring in technology that will allow for crop irrigation, that will allow us to be able to use it in a way where we recognize that we can decrease the total amount that goes into agriculture. So between that, I think, and some of these other areas, we’re addressing some of the things that you’re --


QUESTION: Thank you.


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: -- that you’re moving forward.


QUESTION: Yeah. Lach Carmichael from AFP. Mike Yates, I didn’t understand the reference you made to increasing the water supply through catalytic investments. Could you give a few examples?


MR. YATES: Well, I wouldn’t say specifically increasing the water supply through certain kinds of investments, but we do look at using our funding strategically to help support a better enabling environment for investments in the water sector. One of the important points to keep in mind is we understand roughly $27 billion is spent annually on water programs in the developing world, and 20 billion of that 27 billion is spent by the developing countries and people in the developing countries themselves.


So our resources are extraordinarily important, but we have to use them as strategically as we can to help these countries put in place the right kind of policy environment, the right kind of regulatory environment, the right kind of institutional capabilities so that they can use other resources more effectively to increase supplies of safe drinking water, to increase access to sanitation services, and to focus on long-term sustainability with better water resources management and increased water productivity.


So that’s kind of the comparative advantage niche that we look for. We use our resources to help countries spend their resources more effectively to address those very, very important issues.


QUESTION: Okay, thanks.


MR. CROWLEY: Thank you. Thanks, Maria. Thanks, Mike.

PRN: 2010/340