Summit on the Summit Photograph Exhibit Reception

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
March 8, 2010

Thank you so much, Ambassador Bagley. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you. I also want to recognize Tim Wirth, my predecessor and longtime friend. When Secretary Clinton first asked me to take this job, Tim was one of the first people I called.

And let’s give another welcome to Kenna and the Summit on the Summit team. After summiting Kilimanjaro, they deserve a special shout out. Give it up for Kenna.

As Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs (or G), I oversee US foreign policy related to a diverse array of issues—from refugees and population to democracy and human rights. But what brings me here today is the part of G that addresses oceans, environment and science. As you can imagine, with such a wide portfolio, we have a lot on our plate. And that is why I’ve identified three key issues that we are pursuing. One of those issues is Water.

As Secretary Clinton has said, basic sanitation and access to sustainable supplies of water are perhaps the two of the most important links to human health, economic development, and peace and security. We don’t have to look much further than the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile to the truth in that statement.

When we take a step back and widen our lens, we see that one billion people lack access to clean water. And more than 2 billion lack access to adequate sanitation. Half of the schools in the world lack access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation. In fact, the devastating reality for millions of families is that unsafe water—poor sanitation—is the single largest cause of illness worldwide.

But water is not only a health issue. Indeed, water—or the lack of water — is a peace and security issue as well. Think about this: by 2025, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, which continues to grow too fast, will be living in conditions termed as water-stressed. The lack of sustainable and timely supplies of water will undermine food security and become an increasing source of tension both within and between countries. And we now that climate change will exacerbate those challenges: wet regions will get wetter; dry regions drier; rainwater will vary and increase the likelihood of floods and droughts.

Those of you who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro might have seen the retreat of its glacier. Throughout the world, glaciers store water in the winter and release it during the spring and summer, when people need it most to grow food. As glaciers recess, more people will find their lives threatened.

Today marks an especially important time to discuss the challenges of water. As many of you know, today is International Women’s Day. So it is fitting that we understand and highlight the connection between women and water.

Typically, women and girls are the primary providers of water for the family. We’ve seen data suggesting that in some countries, woman can spend as much as five or six hours a day collecting water – forgoing other educational or economic opportunities. Often they risk harassment or worse when they have to travel long distances to obtain water for their families.

Also, less well known is a key reason girls often cite for dropping out of school: lack of appropriate sanitation facilities.
Despite this disproportionate impact, we also know that women are the key to creating change. No actor proves more reliable or determined than the mother, sister, daughter, or wife. She is the change agent that—when empowered—lifts the family, the community, and the society towards a better future. So you see that gender, water, and sanitation are inextricably linked.

The United States is actively advancing water issues. In fiscal year 2008, the United States obligated more than $1 billion for water- and sanitation-related activities in developing countries. Through these efforts, the United States brought clean water to nearly 8 million people and sanitation to over 6 million people.

But the reality is that no donor alone can solve the world’s water problems. Global needs far exceed our capacity. Partnerships will be critical to our success. Here some examples:

The Department of State has partnered with the Millennium Water Alliance, the Global Water Challenge, and Rotary International to launch the Ambassador’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Schools Initiative. This initiative builds on school programs that USAID supports, providing latrines, hand-washing stations, and hygiene education for school children worldwide.

We are also helping the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) engage with U.S. universities, the private sector, foundations, and other partners on water and sanitation activities. This Council helps governments understand the relationship between water and security, social and economic development and improve how they manage their water.

A final example is USAID’s work with a multi donor partnership including the Hilton Foundation, World Chlorine Council, and UNICEF to implement the West Africa Water Initiative, which is expanding access to clean water and sanitation by rehabilitating rural water systems and putting in place low-cost sanitation.

 As we move forward, this event reminds us to continue to harness the power of partnerships to help reach the billions of people who lack clean water and basic sanitation.

The Summit on the Summit is an inspiring example of how strong partnerships can accomplish great things. Looking at these photos, it is amazing to see what you have been able to do together. Thank you for your hard work and congratulations on your success.