Conversations With America: Global Water Issues

Maria Otero
   Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Cheryl Benton
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Harriet Babbitt, Co-Chair, Global Water Challenge
State Department
Washington, DC
March 21, 2011

MS. BENTON: Good afternoon. I’m Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. Welcome to the State Department, and thank you for joining us on our Conversations with America, a series of video discussions that enables you to watch and participate in live exchanges between top State Department officials and the leaders of nongovernmental organizations.

Today’s topic is global water issues, in commemoration of World Water Day tomorrow, March 22nd. We will discuss the relationship between water security and human security, diplomatic efforts regarding water scarcity and sanitation, and the public-private partnerships that are making a difference. Our blog, DipNote, has received many questions and comments on today’s topic from all around the world. We have selected some of them for this broadcast.

Before we begin, however, let’s meet our guests. Maria Otero is the Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the Department of State. She oversees and coordinates U.S. foreign relations on a variety of global issues, including democracy; human rights and labor; environment; oceans; health and science; population, refugees, and migration; and monitoring and combating trafficking in persons. Thank you so much for being with us, Maria.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

MS. BENTON: Hattie Babbitt is a co-chair of the board of the Global Water Challenge, a coalition of leading corporations, NGOs, and other organizations committed to providing safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene education worldwide to people who lack these services. Ms. Babbitt served as deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1997 to 2001 and oversaw programs in the fields of health, climate change, the environment, democratization, humanitarian relief, women’s empowerment, economic growth, and education.

Welcome, Ms. Babbitt, and thank you for you for joining us.

MS. BABBITT: Thank you.

MS. BENTON: I’d like to invite you to please give our viewers your opening remarks.

MS. BABBITT: I was enormously pleased to have been invited today to meet with Under Secretary Otero and to discuss water issues. I started my interest in water long ago as a Westerner in the United States working on watershed management issues and those kinds of things. About five years ago I was asked to co-chair an Aspen Institute, Nicholas Institute effort on WASH issues, water and sanitation and hygiene. And it was then that I really understood the key significance of delivering water and secure water and clean water and sanitation to people around the world on a whole variety of levels, for – on humanitarian grounds, on security grounds, for a variety of population migration issues. It’s Under Secretary Otero’s portfolio. And the key in that portfolio, one of the keys in that portfolio, is water. So I’m happy to be here to discuss it further.

MS. BENTON: Okay, perfect. Under Secretary Otero, can you give us some opening remarks?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you. Thank you so much, and it’s wonderful to be here with Hattie, who I’ve known for many years, and I’ve admired her work for a long time. As you’re talking about your – the way that you became involved in water, I think of, Secretary Clinton who spoke last year on World Water Day said, "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." Water is really the issue that allows all of this to be able to be brought together.

And clearly, I think as you’ve pointed out, the impact of water at the world level is really important as, I think, a point of departure when we talk about this issue. The first point is that we know that well over 2 million die every year because of lack of access to water or because of sanitation problems. We know also that those that are most affected by lack of water or lack of sanitation are women and children. And we also know that water, in and of itself, when it’s not available, can be a cause of tension and can be a factor that can affect the way in which countries interact with each other. So these are some of the factors that we take into account as we’re looking at water.

MS. BABBITT: Let me just touch on the health part of that and on the women and children part of that, because we are – we, the United States, are, correctly, focusing a great deal these days on agriculture and on hunger and the coming need to feed even more people with fewer resources. But half of the people in the world today who are malnourished – and it’s mostly children – are malnourished because of waterborne and sanitation-related diseases. So that child may have food in front of him or her but can’t absorb the food because of dysentery or because of cholera or because of some other water or sanitation-related disease. And I think people sometimes fail to connect that up. You think of HIV and AIDS, you think of malaria, you think of cholera, and you don’t understand that the key here is really potable water and sanitation.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Yes. And I think what you’re pointing out is this whole concept of having access to water – what we would call water security really is human security. Human security is how you’re able to provide health to people, as you were pointing out, but also how you can help people have enough water available so they can grow their crops, so that they become not only economic and productive citizens, but they can also feed themselves. So this whole question of human security worldwide becomes a very important way of looking at this issue of water.

But I would also add that you also need to look at water as peace and security, because as we look across the globe we see, for example, that there are about 263 river basins around the world that are shared by more than one country. And in sharing those and in sharing that water and in reaching agreement about how that water will be shared by countries that are upstream or downstream, you can enter into situations of conflict, and you could arrive at situations in which countries can begin to not only have tensions about them but also really put in danger the peace of their own countries and the region itself. So this question of water, as you look at health and economic security for each individual around the globe, you also need to look at countries and see how they’re playing this out.

MS. BABBITT: And these issues will only be exacerbated by climate change because of the migration that will come – the climate migrants who will inevitably happen because water resources will move from one place to another. There won’t be less water, but it’ll be in different places on the planet, and people have traditionally – as you point out, riverbeds are often boundaries between countries and that’s where people settled. People have settled for thousands of years in river – near river beds because it’s a source of water. Those channels change, they dry up, and those issues will only become more aggravated by the climbing climate change we have in our future.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Now, in one of the areas where that is particularly noticeable is in glaciers, as we’re beginning to see glaciers, which really are the way in which nature stores water, it’s really the natural system for storing water – those glaciers are melting. , I’m originally from Bolivia, I have watched the glaciers melt in the Andes. In fact, the one glacier that I used to go to when I was a teenager to ski, which is Chacaltaya, the highest ski resort in the world, about 16-17,000 feet above sea level.

MS. BENTON: I can’t breathe just thinking about it.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: You can barely breathe. You can barely breathe there. (Laughter.) But we used to go skiing there. That glacier doesn’t exist anymore. That mountain is now brown. And so this issue of being able to understand better how it is that glaciers are being affected, and they’re being affected by climate change, and how it is that we begin to think about how then are we going to store water. What are the mechanisms that we are using that could compensate for some of the work that now climate change is undoing?

MS. BABBIT: Let me just build on that for a minute, because, of course, what glaciers are is a mechanism for storage. Think of them as a water tower, I think. And snow melt and glaciers given a static climate regime melt, but they’re replenished at the same rate.


MS. BABBIT: We no longer have any prayer of having a static climate regime. And so how is that water going to be stored? What are we going to do? Well, the initial reaction, of course, is dams. And maybe damns aren’t such a bad idea, one thinks. You can get hydroelectricity from dams; you can get a stable source of water if you build them correctly and in the right places. But dams have huge biodiversity impacts.


MS. BABBIT: They’re terribly destructive of traditional fishing habits, traditional fishing traditions. They destroy, for example, in the northwestern United States we have done a very good job of destroying a great deal of the capacity of salmon to reproduce because they have to jump over fences or can’t in the dam systems in our country.

Those places on the planet that depend heavily on fish for protein are those places that are likely to be most affected by climate change.

And dams sound like a simple thing. You put up a structure, you keep the water behind it, you release it when you need more water downstream. But in fact, they’re complicated things to manage, and you end up with silt. And they silt up, so you have created a very expensive storage facility for water, not like that great glacier you used to ski on as a child, but an expensive, costly one to the people who lived in the vicinity, to the taxpayers who paid for it. And then, without really key maintenance, it silts up. Many of the dams in the United States are silted up. So they’re not only destroying the biodiversity, they’re no longer serving the purpose that they were originally made to serve, which is to store water for times of need. It’s an unhappy scenario.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: And yet it’s one of the technologies that we have available to address some of these issues, but it’s also related – and I would just talk a little bit about one of the things that I have seen the most as I’ve traveled country to country has been that water in water-challenged countries that we see – and we see the increased depletion of water because of overpopulation and other factors – in fact, one of the reasons why water is becoming an increasing problem is because governments are not managing their water resources in the way that would make them more efficient and that would allow them to have more water, because we think about storing water but we could also treat water.

And so as I look at the issue of water that we are addressing and the urgency of addressing it, much of it has to do with how it is that we manage the water that we have. I’ve been to many countries, and I think around the world, we see that, for example, water is being used for agriculture. Probably 70 percent of the water – the fresh water that we have is used for agriculture.

MS. BABBITT: I was going to say 69, but I’ll give you (inaudible). (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: And in some countries, it’s up to 90 percent. So we see that. We see also that we are not using a technology, per se, in a way that would allow us to be much more efficient with the use of water. If we use good technologies such as drip irrigation or some other ways, many countries are doing flood irrigation in agriculture, so of course they’re using 70, 80 percent when they could use 40, 50 percent if we applied – if we used technology in a better way.

We also – and this goes back to the question that you – the very first point that you made about health is that we also know that there is such a need to be able to help educate people, to be able to help them understand what sanitation and hygiene means, and how it is that washing your hands, for example, or practicing certain things can really help you address your own water needs more effectively, but can also help you save the water that you have available. So there’s a number of different ways that we see that just the managing of water resources would become one way in which we can address this question. It’s not just a question of whether we have a great demand for water, can we increase the supply, and then we’ll be fine. It’s really how we address the existing supply in a more effective way that I think is a big challenge that we’re facing right now.

MS. BABBITT: I think the best way to think about it is the way we think – we’ve now come to think about fuel efficiency. The airlines across the world are getting rid of their old clunkers not because they couldn’t make their old clunkers fly, but because they can’t make their old clunkers fuel-efficient. And we think about fuel efficiency in cars. That’s the leading piece in an ad about a car. But we don’t think about water – efficient use of water in that same way, about the significance of a leaky pipe or the significance of – and I really think this is something we have to think a great deal more about – the fact that only 7 or 8 or 9 percent of the water that comes into a household, whether it’s a poor household or a rich household, is used for drinking or for cooking.

Do we really need to have a hundred percent of the water that comes into every household cleansed to the level that it’s potable? Probably not. We probably ought to really have different options for different places that takes into account the fact that in most places, it’s quite expensive to clean water to a level that it is potable for human consumption.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: I think that’s very true, and we see that there are water treatment centers, for example, that treat water so that you can irrigate, but you can’t drink, which is the way that we should be thinking about moving this forward. But one of the other things as you point out all the water that is coming into homes, we also know what an enormous number of people around the world lack access to water. And how many women have to walk miles every day in order to be able to bring water to their families, often times at risk to themselves? And how many people lack sanitation or just access to this most simple – to a latrine? It’s really well over a billion people. I think it’s 2.6 billion people that don’t have access to improved sanitation.

So that – I think that’s also one of the drivers in the work that we are doing. Certainly, USAID is providing most of its support in the areas of providing improved access for water to really vulnerable populations, and sanitation to people who don’t access it. It’s not easy to do and it takes enormous resources. As you know, I think last year, or the last year that we have this information for, which is probably two years ago, the U.S. Government provided about $770 million in aid that could bring access to water to millions of additional people.

But I think this is one of the areas that we need to think about and work on, and I know that a lot of your work is precisely in this area of water and sanitation. And we need to look at the – not only – clearly, the U.S. Government is not going to do it alone. In fact, there’s probably more than a dozen U.S. Government agencies that work in this area of water. But the concept of creating partnerships, of being able to work with other agencies, with the NGO community, with the private sector, with the World Bank – we’re signing a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank to collaborate better, to do joint activities, in part, and a recognition of how important it is to bring as many resources as possible to this end.

MS. BABBITT: Well, thank you for bringing up the sanitation part because it’s the issue that nobody likes to talk about. It’s a lot more fun to talk about clean water than it is to talk about lack of sanitation. But lack of sanitation, of course, is one of the drivers in so much of the health set of issues that are related to lack of clean water.

Bill Reilly and I co-chair the Global Water Challenge. Bill was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in a preceding administration, and I really – he brought a lot of water expertise and I brought a fair amount of development expertise to this effort.

I couldn’t be more pleased to be associated with Global Water Challenge because it has taken as its – we have taken as our mission to bring together the corporate world into this in a very, very hands-on way. We have many corporate supporters – Coca Cola, Dow – but it’s a very long list. And those companies, they’re international companies, and they see that their workers have increased productivity if they are healthy, that they have a reputational risk if they’re using water in a way which is not appropriate to the regions they work in. They have been unbelievably good partners in moving forward this set of issues.

The whole WASH issue – and that’s – I don’t know how many of your listeners or our listeners or our listeners or our watchers know – we talk – the shorthand is WASH, water and sanitation and hygiene. It’s a – you have to really think about them all three together if you’re thinking about the health implications of it. And it’s a – I want to get back into the hygiene part of it because there are a large number of people in the world who have never been told that there’s a connection between hygiene and the fact that their baby’s sick –


MS. BABBITT: -- who literally – back to the education point – who literally don’t know that. They know their babies die, but they don’t connect it because no one’s ever told them. So there’s the education at that most basic level, and then there’s the education at the political level, which I think has – and here I’ll talk a little bit about the United States – we’re in a moment where we have the, I think, the greatest support in modern history from an administration on the WASH issues, the water and sanitation and hygiene issues. We have a commitment from the President and we have this extraordinary statement from the Secretary of State last World Water Day. We have your personal commitment and we have Administrator Raj Shah’s commitment.


MS. BABBITT: He’s just appointed Chris Holmes, who’s another water guru in this, to carry the – help carry the USAID banner in this. And if I can borrow an analogy from a colleague of ours who said this is extraordinary; we have this enormous political will at the very highest levels. And it’s like a surfer, a surfer who’s gone around the world looking for the perfect wave; and he’s got the perfect wave, and there’s a big rock. And the big rock is the budget set of issues that we’re facing. So we’re going to have to be smarter and smarter and smarter about how we do this. And what I want to tell you is that, of all the sectors that I’ve worked in – and we both have very varied bios, if I may say so – this sector is the best that I’ve ever worked in terms of learning about what we’ve done that has not been effective and what we are doing that is effective, and sharing best practices.

I spent the morning at an event just focused on that. It was serious people, seriously sharing best practices and models for going forward. So I think the implementers and – are quite – are carrying their load here. We really make – need to make sure that every single dollar that is spent is spent wisely, and I think the sector is really on board with that.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Good. I think there’s no question. You’ve raised the issue of resources. Clearly, we’re going to have to do more with less. And this is one of the reasons why the collaboration among all of the different players is enormously important. You’re working with the private sector, for example, in partnerships – in important partnerships – and so are we, because we know that we can leverage what we can do better and be able to work with them in order to be able to accomplish more.

You go to a given country in Africa and you find that a company has invented, for example, a water purifier where you just take a powder and you put it into a jar of water that is brown and really disgusting looking, and this material that has been invented can actually bring all the bacteria and all the pollutants and everything to the bottom of that jar and can actually allow you to have drinkable water. Wouldn’t it be great if companies and the innovations that are taking place around the world really dedicated time and effort to helping us in resources, to helping us advance down this path? And certainly from the perspective of the U.S. Government, we believe it’s enormously important to be able to have these partnerships with the private sector. AID has the Global Development Alliance program. At State, we have the Global Partnerships Initiative. There are mechanisms whereby we can bring all the different players to the table.

And I think most people that work in water understand the important dimensions of moving forward with this as quickly as possible. It’s as if time is really running against us because there are a number of issues that are complicating factors today that are leading us into water scarcity, especially in some parts of the world. And we see that we are not making some of the connections.

For example, overpopulation is a difficult issue. One of the ways that I’ve been working in water, for example, has been to work specifically in different countries in helping them advance their own work in water. Pakistan is one of them, for example, where they do use 90 percent of their water for agriculture, where their use –60 percent of the water they have actually leaks out or is wasted before it gets to the original source. But it’s important to be able to address this because as we are addressing it even in Pakistan, we’re also seeing that in that country, by 2030, they will add another 50 million people to that population. So I give this as an example of the complexity of these topics.

And climate change, with all of the factors that it causes, is also creating more droughts, it’s creating more floods, it’s – it is making water be more destructive, either by its presence or by its absence.

And so all of these factors, I think, are one of the reasons why Secretary Clinton has really elevated this issue to a point that addresses security, broadly defined. Not just each person that really should have access to water and sanitation but also our own sense of how peace could be affected by a lack of water.

MS. BENTON: I was just listening to you ladies talk and my question is: The memorandum of understanding that the Secretary will sign tomorrow, how far will that advance this agenda? I know it will shine a spotlight on it. Tell me some of the other impacts you think that will have.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Well, the idea of being able to do a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank is, first, to really elevate the issue and to have at the highest levels of the World Bank, at the highest levels of the Department of State, a statement of why water needs to be integrated into everything that is done and that it is core for development itself. So being able to raise it, it means that you can do projects together, you can engage at the diplomatic level in addressing governments at the highest levels, because it’s one thing to speak with the water ministers in different countries; it’s a different thing to speak with the finance ministers or with the prime ministers. And so these types of memorandums of understanding allow us to put our resources into this but at the same time to really call for an increased political will, if I can use that phrase, towards this issue.

MS. BENTON: And I think you made a very good point earlier. We can see from the tsunami that water can be very, very destructive. And then the other side of it is the lack of the water that is available to the survivors and the victims of that. It’s just amazing. As a layperson, when I think about water, you’ve just elevated and illuminated me on another level.

MS. BABBITT: Let me say that my engagement in the WASH – well, the water and sanitation hygiene – came in 2005. I was asked to co-chair a forum, a three-day event gathering of people who cared about these issues, and did, and we issued a report which reflected the consensus or the discussion. And we called it the silent tsunami, because the meeting had taken place in January of 2005 right after the Southeast Asia tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and that part of the world.

And we called it the silent tsunami because if you look at the numbers, the numbers of people who were affected by lack of water and sanitation and hygiene dwarf the numbers of people who were affected by even the largest tsunami; 225,000 people were killed in that, and it is still dwarfed by the village that doesn’t have any water. And the girl who goes to school and can’t go most of the time because she has to haul water, and when she starts menstruating, she can’t go at all because there’s no – there are no sanitation facilities there.

So it’s – the tsunami word is one that historically is quite significant to me, because it was kind of when the light bulb went on for me and I thought, “Wow, I know how to do disaster recovery,” but I really hadn’t understood the significance of just – of the scale of the lack of potable water and sanitation facilities, and the implications of that.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: And in – and I would follow that by pointing out that climate change, as it is affecting our hydrological cycle, the way in which water evaporates and then comes back down to earth to put it --

MS. BABBITT: High school science.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: (Laughter.) That’s right, this stuff that you really have to be a scientist to understand and do it completely. The one issue that really emerges from all that is that global warming is going to make those areas of the world that are wet even wetter, and it’s going to make those areas that are dry drier. And so you’re going to have more floods, you’re going to have more droughts.

And as we begin to look at ways to address the impact of climate change and to adapt to it, I want to make sure and emphasize that women are the ones that are most influenced by it. They are the farmers, they are the ones that are taking care of the family, they’re the ones that are feeling this constraint the earliest. Involving them and finding solutions is enormously important. If they’re the farmers, let’s come up with technologies and let’s help educate women in those technologies so that they can learn new ways of irrigating or new ways of growing crops that are more resistant to drought.

All of these factors are things that are happening at the ground level, at the village level. And we need to continue to support all that effort, to put resources in that, and to really look for local solutions as we address these problems. But we are not really connecting all the dots between some of these factors that have to do with global warming and how it is affecting the way in which water is available to people.

MS. BENTON: Very good. This is a great discussion, and like I said, I’m a layperson and I’ve learned a lot and we appreciate your making comments and talking about this important issue. But we’ve had many interested viewers who have submitted questions via DipNote, which is the State Department’s blog. So I’d like to take some of those questions now.

Nicole in Montana writes: “How important is encouraging education around water issues, whether that education addresses water, sanitation, and hygiene, water source protection, or conversation to solving global water issues?”

MS. BABBITT: Well, I – why don’t I take the village level.

MS. BENTON: Okay, that’s good enough. (Laughter.)

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: And then I’ll take the global level; that’s right.

MS. BABBITT: I’m a retired diplomat. I’ll take the village level. (Laughter.) One of the issues has been in providing consistent, sustainable potable water. And that means that if you have someone go in and drill a borehole and put in a pump, who maintains the pump? How does that happen? What happens five years later? What happens 10 years later? If you insert some kind of magic technology, the kind of salts or powders that you were discussing earlier or a filter that takes out the arsenic and the fluoride and deals with bacteria, who makes sure that the next people in line know how to use that? Who makes sure that the supply chain is sustainable, that it’s there, that people know how to use it, how to change it?

We were – I was involved, for example, in a program in southern Mexico, and we thought we had a really good model. We instructed the teachers in schools on the theory about how to teach kids about water and sanitation and hygiene, we had a good curriculum, we did a fair amount of instruction of the teachers, and thought we had a real winner because we felt that the kids would then go home and be able to spread the knowledge that they had to their families more broadly. So it was – we were very pleased.

Well, it turns out that the teachers in the area of Mexico where we were working are hugely underpaid and hugely underprepared and that they would leave after six months. So then there was no one left who had this capacity to work with the kids on these – on this set of issues – the preparing of the – repairing of the pumps, all of those things. One of the things that I found so interesting about this morning’s very serious discussion about how you make help sustainable was the idea of a circuit rider. You can’t have someone from the international community or from the Nation’s Capital always in a village saying, “This is how you repair the pump.” But you can have a sustained presence by having a very systemic use of circuit riders, in effect, who go and who follow – do the follow-through.

One of the other things I – good ideas that I thought this morning that came out was having – was clustering solutions, so that if one town uses filters and the other uses some other mechanism and another town uses another set, that doesn’t really work because they don’t – there’s no cross-education among the population about the importance of these things. So you really need to aggregate for the provision of assistance and you really need – or – and have an approach that builds on the education over time so that you end up with a population that really can take advantage of the assistance that does come.

MS. BENTON: So on the global, how would you approach that?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Well, more than on the global, I would say that at another level in each country, the questions about education – one of the factors that we see over and over again is the real lack of awareness, even among policymakers in countries, of the importance of this issue for water, of the need to be able to engage in addressing water, as one of the major priorities of all countries.

So you go country to country and we see the lack of knowledge about just the very basic factors related to the conditions of water – we’re overusing the water that’s underground, we are not storing it the way that we should, we’re not treating it the way that we should. We see that in most countries, countries lack a national water policy– to put it simply. There is little direction in the way in which a government not only establishes the way in which the country should look at water, but also determines the resources that the government will allocate to water, because if these things are happening at the village level, where is the infrastructure, where is the building of the systems that are necessary that really have to come from a government that allocates resources to that? Where is the use of some of the technology that, again, a government could put in place?

So a lot of the work at the policy level requires a great deal of education, a great deal of awareness, and this concept that you brought up earlier of commitment to addressing this issue. Because ultimately, it’s really each country and its country’s government that is going to address the issue of water in their own country. And we can work globally to be able to make countries more and more aware of it, be able to bring some of our own resources, as AID does and other donors do. But ultimately, that has to be one area in which we really need to make a lot of progress.

MS. BABBITT: Well, you and mostly talked about developing countries and the poor who lack access to basic potable water and basic sanitation. But our country has a National Oceans Council to deal with the ocean that surrounds us.


MS. BABBITT: There is no national fresh water council. We don’t have a national focus on this either, which might be one place to start. I want to pick up, though, on one other thing about – that you talked about as a – which is the sort of democratization component of water. There are many countries emerging from various kinds of authoritarian regimes or just emerging from poorly developed democratic systems where there’s not that understanding that democracy needs to deliver. That’s a phrase that Secretary Albright uses a lot: Democracy needs to deliver.

And one of the ways it needs to deliver is on water so that a newly minted senator or member of parliament or candidate for president in country X or Y or Z who can say we understand the basic fundamental importance of potable water and sanitation, and that’s something that we will be committed to delivering when we are representing you and that we will deliver and we do deliver when we represent you. It’s a hugely important mechanism for people to understand how basic it is. We’ve kind of forgotten about it here, because the Tennessee Valley Authority was in the 1930s.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: That’s right. We have the same issue.

MS. BENTON: Right. (Laughter.)

MS. BABBITT: It was in fact what brought rural electrification to Appalachia and what brought water.


MS. BENTON: That’s right. I wanted to actually – we’re running a little out of time. I wanted to get to another question. Simon O (ph) in Virginia writes: Would you comment on the status of the Cooperative Framework Agreement the six countries of the Nile basin have signed, with the exception of Egypt, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo? Given that Egypt, under Mubarak, had been resistant to signing the agreement, do you think there is a chance that this will change with regime change and power? What is your overall view about the sustainability of the Nile Basin Initiative? We could go to you, Under Secretary.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Certainly. I think this question is referring to the way in which the countries that are – the 10 countries that the Nile flows through have been able to agree on the way in which they share the resources of that river. And this has been going on, of course, for years, because that water really flows from Africa north to – through Egypt. And the Nile Basin Initiative is really an effort that started even more than 50 years ago in trying to reach agreement among these countries as to how they were going to share the water.

Until recently,– there’s six countries that have agreed to sign the agreement as it exists right now and countries that have not. With six countries it could move forward to ratification. But you can’t really have an agreement unless all countries are able to reach agreement and be able to move forward. We believe that one of the ways in which countries can do this is if they create an intergovernmental type of association, a regional mechanism whereby they can discuss some of the things they agree on or don’t agree on and reach some sort of commitment, some sort of compromise so that they can move forward.

There are some examples around the world where countries have done this, and where you see that countries that are sharing a river basin are, in fact, being able to agree and move things forward. In the case of the Nile, and of course right now with the changes in Egypt that we anticipate, it will really take some time before they are finalized and a government is elected. We envision that that will take some time before it resolves itself.

MS. BENTON: Well, we’re out of time and that basically concludes our – this session of Conversations with America. Under Secretary Otero, thank you so very much for sharing all of your great knowledge on this issue.


MS. BENTON: I’d also, of course, like to thank Hattie Babbitt, who – it’s our total pleasure to have you with us today and your expertise is very, very much welcome in – it educates me and I’m sure enlightens everyone. 

So we want you to note that the video and the transcript will be available on very shortly. We hope that Conversations with America will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to engaging again with you very, very soon. Again, thank you both.

MS. BABBITT: Thank you.

MS. BENTON: All right.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you. It’s a great pleasure to be here.