Global Water Security: The Intelligence Community Assessment

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Woodrow Wilson Center
Washington, DC
May 9, 2012

Thank you, Jane. It is an honor to be included in this National Conversation on the Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security. The Woodrow Wilson Center has been visionary in the area of environmental security and it's heartening to see a growing appreciation for your work.

Let me also take a moment to thank Cas Yost from the National Intelligence Council, who will speak right after me. Thank you for the NIC’s hard work and persistence to make this Intelligence Community Assessment, or ICA, a reality.

Finally, thanks to our esteemed panel for joining us today.

As Secretary Clinton has noted, perhaps no two issues are more important to human health, economic growth, and peace and security than access to basic sanitation and sustainable supplies of water.

Each day, nearly 4,000 people – mostly children under five – die from preventable diseases caused by contaminated water. Not surprisingly, women and girls are impacted most.

In addition to the health impacts, water will affect our ability to protect the environment, achieve food-and-energy security, and respond to climate change.

Competition for water and that lack of access to basic water and sanitation services may become a source of conflict.

In order to better understand the impacts of global water challenges on our national security interests, last year Secretary Clinton requested that the intelligence community produce a National Intelligence Estimate to further study the issue.

The release of the unclassified Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security, whose contents draw from the National Intelligence Estimate, confirms much of what we already suspected – that if left unaddressed, water challenges worldwide will post a threat to U.S. security interests.

This is in addition to the tremendous burden that water scarcity and the mismanagement of water resources is already placing on populations and critical freshwater and marine ecosystems throughout the world.

Recognizing this, in 2010 Secretary Clinton defined five specific steps the U.S. would take to address these challenges.

First, build and strengthen institutional and human capacity at the local, national and regional levels. Countries and communities must take the lead in securing their own water futures. We need to help build their capacity so they can deliver.

This includes building support for and strengthening regional mechanisms for advancing cooperation on shared waters. We are already active in many basins throughout the world – from the Nile to the Mekong – supporting riparian country efforts. We recently launched the Shared Waters Partnership to focus donor efforts on key regions throughout the world.

Second, increase and better coordinate our diplomatic efforts. We need to work to raise international awareness; 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.

Both Secretary Clinton and USAID Administrator Shah have been active in promoting these issues and reinforcing the need for countries to commit themselves to doing more.

Third, mobilize financial support. This will require resources. In many cases, there is capital within developing countries. We need to work to mobilize these resources towards water and sanitation infrastructure by strengthening local capital markets, providing credit enhancements, and exploring other avenues for support.

Fourth, promote science and technology. There is no silver bullet. That said, science and technology can have a huge impact. We need to work harder to incentivize the development of technologies that can make a difference at scale and to share U.S. expertise and knowledge with the rest of the world.

And finally fifth, build and sustain partnerships. We cannot solve this problem on our own. Just last month, Secretary Clinton launched the U.S. Water Partnership. It aims to mobilize U.S. knowledge, expertise, and resources to improve global water security. I encourage you to visit its website to learn more and get involved.

We will today see that the ICA confirms that this comprehensive approach by the U.S. government to manage water-related challenges is exactly what is required.

The ICA reinforces our view that water is not just a human health issue, not just an economic development or environmental issue, but also a security issue. We will ensure water issues stay at the top of our foreign policy and national security agenda.

The ICA also reinforces the need to engage diplomatically, to carefully coordinate our development and diplomatic efforts, and to build stronger partnerships across sectors.

I look forward to what I expect will be a very interesting and interactive dialogue. I hope we leave here today with a better understanding of the ICA‘s findings and what they mean for our work.

As a follow-up to today's event, the State Department is working closely with partners to convene additional dialogues on the ICA and its implications.

We hope that policy makers from every corner – across sectors and at the national, regional, and global levels – will roll up their sleeves and join the discussion, with the goal of finding new and better ways to ensure global water challenges are not obstacles to global health, economic development, and peace and security.

Secretary Clinton has said: "The water crisis is a health crisis, it's a farming crisis, it's an economic crisis, it's a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis. And therefore, we must have an equally comprehensive response."

This ICA therefore is an important step forward in our efforts to understand and respond to this complex challenge. Thank you.