Telephonic Press Briefing on Earth Day 2016: Water for the World Act and Water Issues in Africa
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from across the continent and media gathered at our various missions in Africa.
Today, we are joined today by Aaron Salzberg, Special Coordinator for Water Resources at the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science. Special Coordinator Salzberg is speaking to us from Washington, D.C.
We will begin with remarks from Special Coordinator Salzberg, and then we will then open it up to your questions. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1.
For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email, and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtags #EarthDay2016, #ActOnClimate, or #OurOcean, and follow us on @AfricaMediaHub.
Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately forty-five minutes. And with that, I will turn it over to Special Coordinator Salzberg.
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for taking the time to join our discussion today on water. I am particularly pleased to do this, of course, because I am always excited to talk about water, but also because I believe journalists can play a critical role in keeping the public informed and engaged on what I think is one of the most critical and pressing issues of our time. So thank you all for taking the time.
I think many of you already know the global water challenge. While we have made some progress, today, somewhere between 1.5 and 2 billion people still lack access to water that is safe to drink. More than 2 billion people lack access to basic sanitation. And the proportion of people who lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation is particularly high in Africa and particularly in poor and rural populations.
And this lack of safe water, sanitation, and basic hygiene remains one of the leading causes of death in children under five and a major source of both physical and cognitive stunting which can have a major impact on development outcomes.
Many countries throughout the world remain water insecure. In other words, they remain at risk of shortages of water, lack of water for drinking, water for food, for industrial use, or are at risk of floods and other water related natural disasters.
Climate change, of course, is exacerbating many of these challenges. This water insecurity is becoming a growing impediment to economic growth and an increasing source of tension between communities and countries.
The United States is working globally to improve water security. Simply put, what this means is that people have sustainable supplies of water of sufficient quantity and quality to meet their needs, without living in fear of floods and droughts. This means increasing access to safe drinking water and sanitation, improving water resources management, and promoting cooperation on shared waters.
And we do this through a number of ways, through capacity building, investment in infrastructure, diplomatic engagement, science and technology cooperation, and through partnerships, all of which I am happy to talk much more about during our conversation.
Africa is a particular focus of our efforts on drinking water and sanitation. The United States Congress recently passed the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, which made access to drinking water and sanitation a priority for U.S. foreign assistance. And the Act requires the President to identify a set of priority countries for U.S. foreign assistance targeted towards drinking water and sanitation, and many African countries are on that list. So our hope is that we will be working together to make significant progress, particularly in those countries that are furthest behind.
I think I will stop here, and I very much look forward to answering your questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Special Coordinator Salzberg. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, the Water for the World Act and U.S. government policy and cooperation on water related issues.
I would like to begin the briefing by asking Special Coordinator Salzberg perhaps to go into a bit more detail on what is the Water for the World Act, and when did it come into effect?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Thank you. So the Water for the World Act is actually a second piece of legislation looking at drinking water and sanitation, from the United States. There was a predecessor piece of legislation that was passed in 2005 called the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act. And that act was really the first statement by the U.S. Congress, prioritizing access to drinking water and sanitation in U.S. foreign policy and in U.S. foreign assistance.
This new act, which was just passed in 2014, takes the previous legislation a step further, and it asks the President to identify priority countries based on need, and to prioritize U.S. foreign assistance for drinking water and sanitation to those countries. The real intent behind the legislation is to see whether or not we can make significant progress in those countries that are furthest behind, in providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation to its people.
We have just begun looking at the implementation of this piece of legislation and are working hard to think through how we’re going to do that in these priority countries. We have identified that list of priority countries, and again, many African countries are on this list. This includes countries like Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia. So all places, of course, that are struggling significantly with trying to deal with these issues. So I hope that helps give you a little bit of background.
MODERATOR: Yes, thank you. As a quick follow up to that, could you go into some specifics on how the Act will directly impact those African nations?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Well again, we’re trying work through what the implementation of this will look like. But I think the goal is that we sit down and work with these governments in a strategic way to figure out how we can achieve more meaningful results at scale. In other words, we realize that there are many donors who are working in these countries who are doing great programs that are affecting individual communities. How do we bring all that together in a coordinated way where we can begin to benefit from lessons learned, where we can mobilize additional resources, and leverage off the efforts of each other so that we can achieve more meaningful results at scale.
I mean, I really think the goal of this Act isn’t just to provide drinking water and sanitation to communities, as much as it is to really help move a country from what might be sixty percent access today to, you know, eighty, ninety, a hundred percent access ten, fifteen, twenty years from now.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Our next question was submitted by email from Siaka Momoh, publisher of The Real Sector monthly digital magazine in Nigeria. He asks, “We are aware that some water resource alternatives have been suggested, such as improving water use efficiency, rain water harvesting, desalination, recovering, recycling, and re-using water. How much progress has been made in the drive to put in place these desired alternatives?”
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: That’s a great question. Well, there’s probably two ways to look at this. I think there’s a lot of progress that has been made. There is an incredible range of new technologies that are coming online that can help work to address some of these issues. And at the same time, there are a number of communities, particularly in rural areas, that are looking seriously at how to expand rainwater harvesting, ground water recharge, and all these things in the areas that they are trying to do, to better manage their water resources.
The reality is that it’s not quite enough yet. So are we making progress? Yes, there’s a range of technologies that are now out there that communities can choose from to help meet their needs that are appropriate for their particular context. But at the same time, you know, I think we need to do a better job disseminating knowledge about these technologies and helping to mobilize resources so that communities that need to put these technologies into practice can do that, and we can bring some of those efforts to scale.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Our next question will go to a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. Operator, could you please open the line?
MEDIA: [Inaudible 9:55] From the report I have with me, I understand the U.S. Agency for International Development and [Inaudible] partnered together to finance about a two million U.S. dollar project in water in cross river. The question is, why is it cross river, and how much is the U.S. looking at for the whole area that you are targeting for a possible water, and a drinkable water to that affect, either in year 2016 or years ahead?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: I’m not sure I understand the first part of the question, but this is a project...do you mean the Trans-Boundary Water Project that USAID is funding?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: You know, I don’t know the details of that specific project, but it doesn’t surprise me. I think what we have come to realize is that for communities and countries to benefit most from their water resources that we need to manage these resources at a basin level, even if at that basin level it crosses political boundaries.
So the idea of supporting activities where communities and countries can work together and to promote cooperation on these water resources, that they are working together to optimize the use of water resources across the basin for the benefit of all the people in that basin, is a very important goal of the United States. So that activity doesn’t surprise me, and that’s generally why we try to support trans-boundary activities.
In terms of funding, the United States generally spends upwards of 400 to 500 million dollars a year to address drinking water and sanitation issues worldwide. In Africa, when we mention the Water for the Poor Act, since the beginning of the Water for the Poor Act, development assistance support for drinking water and sanitation activities in Africa has gone up almost tenfold. So it’s just been a remarkable growth.
I think, on average, what we are seeing in spending in the African Continent now, is anywhere between 150 to 250 or so million dollars a year for drinking water and sanitation activities, and we will probably continue at those rates into the future. There may be some scaling up as some of these activities under the Water for the World Act begin to take root, but that depends a lot, of course, on the individual countries that we are working with, their level of commitment to these activities and the actual progress that we are making on the ground.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Operator, could you open the line, please?
MEDIA: [Inaudible 13:00] The problem of water is a great pressure in Africa. Do you think in Africa, we can have a conflict because of using of water, for example, between Ethiopia and Egypt, about using of water, management of water? Do you think those conflicts can be raised in some countries, and how can we peacefully address those problems? Thank you.
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Another good question. We certainly hope not, but the reality is, is Africa is home to the largest number of trans-boundary basins in the world. You know, I think every single country on the continent shares water with one or another country. And this isn’t just surface water and rivers, but it’s also groundwater. And as these resources come under increasing pressure, the competition over these resources is going to continue to grow.
I think, and it’s certainly our hope, that countries will realize that cooperation over water resources is really the only alternative. That conflict over water doesn’t make sense for a whole variety or reasons, but that cooperation over water can yield very meaningful benefits, both economically, but also socially and politically.
We, from the State Department, we view water systems as the backbone of economic development for many regions throughout the world, and I think this is particularly true for Africa. There are many river systems within Africa that could drive economic growth in ways that few things can. And the cooperative management of those river systems is critical in realizing that full economic potential. And so from our perspective, it would be an incredible shame if countries couldn’t realize that potential, and instead took a less cooperative route on those water resources.
You mentioned the current issues going on between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the Nile. It is our sincere hope that the countries will find a cooperative way to go forward on that process. This basin, there have been different estimates, but it can promote economic development anywhere from two to five percent GDP for these individual countries if they could work together on managing that resource. And so I think there is a real imperative on the governments to perhaps put aside some of the challenges that they are facing and find a cooperative way to managing those resources.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was submitted by email from journalist Mathieu Ramasiarisolo from the Daily Taratra in Madagascar. He asks, “As the person in charge of the management of U.S. policy on drinking water and sanitation, how do you assess the U.S. intervention regarding the Water for the Poor Act of 2005?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Another very good question. I’m probably always the first to say that we are not doing enough. That said, I have been very impressed by the accomplishments of the United States under the Water for the Poor Act. I already pointed to a few of them, but I will repeat some of them. The first is, I think you saw a shifting in where U.S. efforts on drinking water and sanitation were focused. In other words, you saw a greater focus on countries with greater need, and that’s a very positive sign out of the legislation. And this included a number of countries in Africa where U.S. support grew quite a bit. Again, as I said, development assistance to Africa under the Act grew more than tenfold for drinking water and sanitation within the continent.
I also think you saw not just a re-prioritization of where our funding was going. I thought you saw an increase in the amount of money that we are spending. But more than the money, because this is what really matters, is that we saw some meaningful results. And we saw millions of people getting first-time access to drinking water and sanitation services in many of these very challenging places in very challenging countries. And so I think that because of U.S. efforts there are many more people who are now enjoying safe and sustainable supplies of drinking water, and far fewer people who are now either defecating in the open, or now have adequate places to go to the bathroom in appropriate sanitation facilities in school and healthcare facilities.
So I think there is tremendous progress being made under the legislation, but obviously this is a tremendous problem, globally. And so there is much more work to be done.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question, “How is the United States contributing to securing and managing water resources in Africa?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Well, I am not sure I understand the word “secure.” The United States wouldn’t work to secure water resources, but if you’re talking about improving the water security of countries in Africa, absolutely. Again, I think the goal of the United States is to ensure that people have the water they need, where they need it, when they need it, without living in fear of floods and droughts, and working with countries throughout the world to achieve that goal.
A lot of this is happening through capacity building, where through the U.S. Agency for International Development we work to build the capacity of these countries to strengthen their ability to manage water resources soundly and to provide basic services.
The second thing is through investment and infrastructure. USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation are the lead agencies for the United States investing in hardware, building taps and toilets, improving utility functioning, building wastewater treatment plants and facilities like that, and that is critically important.
The other thing that we are seeing is an increased engagement by the U.S. private sector throughout the continent, as well. I am taken back by the recent launch of a wastewater treatment plant, in Rwanda, in Kigali, where Culligan has now come in and built a wastewater treatment plant that has now increased water supplies in Kigali by thirty-eight percent. That’s a huge gain. And so I think there is an increased role that the U.S. private sector is now beginning to play throughout the continent.
I also think technology is a key part of this. The United States has been working to support the development of new technologies that we hope can address many of the rural challenges that people in Africa face in providing safe drinking water and in wastewater treatment and sanitation. And we just had a competition for a technology to increase water for food production and came up with a very innovative desalinization technology that we think will be very useful in rural environments that have lots of sunlight; it’s a solar powered desalinization unit, but that can help communities that are not necessarily connected to the grid to be able to do that.
And then maybe that last thing I will point to is some of the financial instruments. The reality is, the amount of assistance, when you look at dollars coming from the United States, or even from all governments, is modest compared to the requirements that must be met for these countries to provide these services to their people. And so we really are going to have to look to very creative financial mechanisms to mobilize capital from a variety of sources.
And one of the areas that has a lot of potential is the ability to leverage local investment from local banks and other partners within the countries, to invest in public services and public goods through programs like USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA). And I there is a lot of potential for that, and I’m happy to talk more about that if someone is interested. But I think the mobilization of local capital is going to be critically important, working to improve the regulatory environment in these countries so we can attract private sector investment, and that we can recover costs for a lot of the operations and maintenance of these types of hardware.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Our next question will go to a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. Operator, please open the line?
MEDIA: [Inaudible 22:30] from WSM 91.7. Water, sanitation, and hygiene work hand in hand. The Lassa fever in Nigeria is becoming a silent crisis. How can we better sensitize the world’s poor about good hygiene practices?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Oh, great question, and you are in an ideal position to help do this. This is one of the most challenging problems that we face -- getting people to understand that very basic things, such as washing your hands, and how you deal with sanitation issues and managing food when you are preparing food for your family…This is critically important for preventing disease.
We have tried a number of different public campaigns and education campaigns to build awareness around these sets of issues, but to be frank, I think it’s really getting folks like yourselves engaged, who can use platforms like radio, the press, to help educate and remind people continually about the need to do these types of things.
I mean, even in the United States, it’s sometimes a challenge to convince people that washing their hands is the single most important thing they can do to keep people from getting sick. And this is something we just need to use the cell phone technology for, texting, other types of messaging, just to get this message out and to remind people.
The other part of this, though, is we have to make it easier, and we have to provide places where people have access to clean water and to soap so that they actually can engage in these types of activities. Schools are obviously an ideal place where we can begin to educate our youth and others about the importance of these kinds of behaviors in the hope that they will bring them home, but it may be that we have to think more creatively about community washing stations, about how we make soap and other things available at the household level, so that people can begin to get in the habit and think about doing this.
But this is a global challenge, and I have to tell you as the father of a nine year old, there are times where I have had that challenge at home, myself. So I empathize a great deal with this.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was submitted by email. It comes from a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. Radio Oasis asks, “What criteria do you use to allocate money for different projects in each country?”
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: That’s a very good question. I mean there are a couple of things that we look at. The first is the level of need, and we are fundamentally trying to improve the conditions for the poorest populations. And so the level of need is probably the first thing that we would look at.
The second thing that we would look at is the opportunity to make a difference. Are we uniquely positioned? Does the technology that we are bringing, do the skills that we are bringing, does that money that we are bringing, are there other donors who are working in that particular area, are there other donors who have greater expertise in either in that country or in that particular area that are better positioned to be able to make a difference in that situation?
A good part of what we look at is the commitment of the community itself, or the commitment of the government. To be frank, water and sanitation investments are some of the most challenging to achieve sustainable gains on. And what we find is that the level of commitment by the government, by the local communities in maintaining these types of investments is absolutely critical to ensuring sustainability.
And so probably one of the most important things that we would look at is whether or not we have a strong level of commitment by our partners on the ground to carry forward the work that we do, to continue to build capacity, to continue to mobilize the resources, and continue to develop the supply chains that are necessary to sustain all the hardware investments and the software investments that we put in place.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. Operator, can you please open the line?
MEDIA: [Inaudible 27:00] again from [inaudible] 4.1 FM. In terms of regulation, I would like to know what kind of regulation are you looking at for an investment in water improvement?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “regulation.” Often, in terms of...I mean, there are two parts to this. If you want to mobilize investments for water infrastructure, there’s no question that you want to get the regulatory environment of the country right so that the private sector, that the banking community, and that others feel confident that they can invest in the country and that they can invest in the banking systems there.
That’s critically important. And so things around corruption, around the time it takes to get projects funded and moved through, the finance cycle within the individual country, the proper legal environment so that the country’s private sector feels that it is protected and that its money is protected when it goes into these countries, is critically important.
The other side of this, though, is again, thinking creatively about the financial instruments that can work in these countries’ settings. The reality is I think, and unlike many developed countries where there is a lot of liquidity… In other words, in developed countries when you put money into a bank, that bank often lends out much of that money into the community for projects and programs so that they can earn revenues off of it. In many developing countries, banks often hold much of that money in the bank and lend out very small portions of it, either because they believe the risks are too great, or the investment environment isn’t strong enough to produce the returns that they want.
So a regulatory environment is critical in getting the money that all of you, all of the local population are putting into their banks, getting that money lent back out for public service projects. We as donors can help in some cases by providing loan guarantees and making it less risky for the banks to put some of their own money out in lending for infrastructure projects, but again, the national governments really play an important role in creating the environment, and enabling that kind of thing to happen.
The key, and again this happens in the United States quite a bit, is that the money that we put into banks as savings is often lent out for public infrastructure projects. And that’s the type of process you want to see grow in many of the countries in Africa.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was submitted by email from journalist Mathieu Ramasiarisolo from the Daily Taratra in Madagascar. He asks, “To your knowledge, what African countries are making efforts to follow scientific standards in the drinking water and sanitation sector?”
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: That’s a good question. I think there are a number of African countries that have made some significant progress in addressing some of these challenges. If you look at a country, and scientific standards...sorry, just to back up. Access to piped water remains a tremendous challenge within the African continent. And so while access to drinking water and sanitation is beginning to improve, and Africa still lags behind many other regions in the world, many people in Africa, particularly in rural communities, still rely on surface water for their drinking water, and that’s rivers, lakes, irrigation canals, things like that.
Access to piped water is still very, very low within Africa. And so when you talk about meeting proper drinking water standards, I think we look towards piped water where you can better monitor water quality, better monitor supplies, better ensure 24/7 access. And there are some countries which have made some significant progress in that regard. Botswana is a good example where between, I think, 1990 to 2015 they increased access to piped water by fifty-two percent. That’s huge.
When you look at sanitation, you’ve got a country like Ethiopia, where between the same time period, 1990 and 2015, Ethiopia reduced open defecation rates by sixty-four percent. I mean, these are huge gains.
There are a number of other countries who have made progress. Senegal has also made progress on piped drinking water. Angola, Guinea, Benin, and Malawi have made progress in sanitation. I think we really need to look towards those countries to see what has worked there, and see whether or not those are things that we can scale up to other countries within Africa. So, there are homegrown examples that we can draw from that might enable the continent to reach the level of service and the quality of service that it needs to in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was submitted by email from Siaka Momoh, publisher of The Real Sector online digital magazine in Nigeria. He asks, “It is unfortunate that governments in developing countries, Nigeria inclusive, have abdicated their responsibilities regarding providing fresh water to citizens in homes and industries. How much intervention can global institutions concerned with this sector put on these countries to bring about a change for the better?”
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: An excellent question, and a very important observation. From our perspective, probably the greatest impediment we have to increasing access to safe drinking water and sanitation is the lack of political commitment. I think we have seen where governments have made a very strong commitment to addressing this issue we have seen tremendous progress, and we have seen this in many countries throughout the world. And so you are right to point out that national level leadership is critically important.
In the global community, we have tried a number of different approaches to building political will towards addressing water and sanitation issues. The first is that we have tried to develop the science base behind water and sanitation. We have tried to develop the evidence that suggests that by addressing water and sanitation challenges we can reduce illnesses, we can reduce stunting, we can improve economic outcomes, we can promote economic development, we can reduce the amount of time that women spend taking care of family members or collecting water, and becoming much more productive members of the community, and being able to take advantage of education and economic opportunities. We have worked hard to strengthen the evidence base for why drinking water and sanitation issues matter for the outcomes that national leaders should care about.
The other is, I think we have tried to put greater pressure on national governments to take action through partnerships like Sanitation and Water for All, we have tried to get governments to commit to specific actions, to increasing access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In different regional fora, we have appealed to political leaders and have often tried to develop declarations that help generate commitments by governments to addressing water and sanitation issues. The Queenie Declaration in Africa is a good example of that.
And many governments have also taken steps globally to make this happen. I think the movement towards a human right to drinking water and sanitation is a good example of that, where the recognition of drinking water and sanitation as an important part of realizing an adequate standard of living helped really catalyze a movement globally that has put pressure on political leaders. And many countries in Africa have adopted drinking water sanitation as a right within their own national legislation. And our hope, of course, is that that, too, will catalyze action by governments to addressing these issues.
I think, first and foremost, and of course this is one of the great reasons talking to a group like this is so important, is catalyzing public will. The people, themselves, in many countries have a great voice in what their governments are doing, and how their governments are addressing the challenges that they face, and getting the public engaged and speaking out on these kinds of issues is an important part of convincing national governments that this is something they need to prioritize.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question, “USAID recently assisted Ethiopia in confronting a drought caused by the El Niño cycle. Can other African countries facing similar conditions expect such support?”
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: That’s a really good question. Obviously, we will have to see how this plays out in the future, and what countries are facing. I think from a general perspective, what you are going to see is the United States working harder to build the capacity of countries to plan for and to respond to these kinds of conditions, and this is going to come from a number of perspectives. We can think about this from a water lens and the variability that we see in water supplies, but also from a climate change lens. And we are going to see increased variability in supplies, and of course, prolonged periods without rain and shorter periods of more intense rainfall, and all these are going to tax the capacity of countries throughout the continent to be able to sustainably manage their water resources.
I think the United States is going to stand committed in working with partners throughout the continent to improve their resiliency to climate change in some of these impacts and to improve their water resources management.
And this is probably going to take a number of forms. When we look at the drought in Ethiopia, and we look at what we are doing today, obviously in the first stages of a drought, we focus on meeting basic needs, food, nutritional support, medical care, water sanitation and hygiene support. Those are the most immediate things, and of course the United States has been very active whenever we see disasters of this kind throughout the world, in meeting those basic needs. But in the long term, we really need to work with these countries in a number of ways to prevent these types of disasters from happening again. And that’s probably going to happen along four different lines or so.
The first is really improving our knowledge base, and this is integrating the different data sets that we have on ground water, soil moisture, snow pack, the surface water use, so that we can begin to improve our modeling and predictive capabilities, so we can identify when and where populations might be at risk from drought conditions, and the potential impacts that drought conditions might have on critical infrastructure within our countries.
The second thing is working on communications. In other words, once we know that conditions are ripe for a future disaster, how do we communicate that information to decision makers inside our governments, but also people on the ground, communities that can begin to take steps to protect themselves and protect the resources that are critical for them?
The third part is improving planning and capacity building. I think that droughts are very complex problems that cut across many different responsibilities that exist within government, everything from the Ministry of Agriculture, to Energy, to Water, to Environment, to Health. So how do we begin to bring those disparate agencies together at a national level, but also think regionally about how we can improve coordination and respond to these types of challenges? Drought planning, development of contingency plans, these are the types of things that we are going to be working on with many countries throughout the continent.
And then the fourth, and not the last but perhaps a very important area, is improving water management. And this, too, will take a number of different dimensions. We certainly want to optimize and improve the way water is used for agriculture, moving towards irrigation technologies that would reduce water consumption, but also moving towards more drought resilient crops, and ensuring that those places that are drought prone are now growing different types of crops and are using seeds that can produce food under a wider range of conditions.
We need to work to increase the efficiency of water use in other sectors. The energy sector is a major consumer of water use. The evaporative losses of water is key. How can we reduce water loss in many other sectors? That’s going to be a key part of improving water management.
Increasing water storage. We’ll have to look at a variety of methods for doing this. And of course, in Africa and places where evaporative losses are high, looking at underground storage I think is going to be critically important and groundwater recharge.
And then perhaps the last area under this heading of improving water management will be augmenting supplies. How can we increase the water available to people? And this would include a number of different approaches, things like water re-use, treating wastewater so that we can begin to bring it back into the system, rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, desalination, and in some cases where the groundwater supplies will support it, drilling new or deepening existing wells so that we can provide more water to those people who might not have it in hard times.
So, sorry, that was a very long answer, but it is a very complicated problem. But I think you will see the U.S. engaged in a number of different ways throughout the continent on these issues.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We have time for one last question, and that will go to a journalist at the listening party at the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, Nigeria. Operator, could you please open the line?
MEDIA: Good afternoon. My name is Thomas [inaudible 41:25] from Smooth FM. With about 748 million people without access to safe drinking water, I think it’s quite alarming for something as basic as water for such a number of people to be without it. Now, some of the resources have been spent looking to what’s a project? Some people get this, but still we still have this large number of people. Now, is there a long-term plan in place to ensure this is brought to an end? If so, when is it?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: Thank you, Thomas, a great, great question. Of course, this is one of the main reasons why I work on this issue. You mentioned 700 million people without access to safe water. In fact, we actually don’t measure water quality globally. And so while that number probably represents the number of people who don’t have a protected water source, in other words, a source of water that has a cement slab around it and comes out of a tap so that it can't get contaminated by animals or people, it’s likely that the amount of people without access to safe water is much, much higher, anywhere between 1.5 and 2 billion people. So you’re right to point out, this is truly a very significant problem that the world needs to make some progress on.
And I agree with you that progress has been slower than we had hoped for. And I think in part it’s because this is an incredibly complicated challenge. And you might think that providing a tap in a rural village, or a tap in an apartment in an urban environment, is a simple thing to do, but the amount of things that have to go into making that work, and making it sustainable is incredibly complicated. It’s a technology challenge, it’s a financing challenge, and in some cases it’s a social and cultural challenge. So the actual activity, itself, can be quite challenging. And getting the right supply chains in place and everything else, quite challenging.
And to be frank, I think we have learned a lot over the last several decades. When we first started a global movement towards addressing some of these challenges, there were a lot of investments that we made that just, to be honest, were not sustainable. And what we found is that we would come back five years later and find that seventy percent of the activities that we did were no longer delivering services.
And so we have had to do a lot of homework to figure out, what are the right kinds of interventions, what’s the capacity, and the financial systems, and everything else that we need to develop, to make these things sustainable? And to be honest, I think we are still learning, particularly in the area of sanitation. We are doing a little bit better on drinking water, but particularly in sanitation.
Some of you may be aware that recently governments came together and agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which laid out a series of sustainable development goals and targets for the world. And we have agreed to target...for the first time we now have a standalone goal on water that by 2030 will achieve universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. So we have that goal in place.
I think what you’re going to see, particularly over the coming year and year and a half, is the global community coming together to think through, how is it we are going to make that happen? What are the types of investments, where do those investments have to happen, what are the types of commitments we need to see from the communities and the governments themselves to be able to able to realize these goals? And so my hope is that you will begin to see over the course of this year, now that we have the political commitment in place, that we will see over the coming year a renewed effort by governments to put in place the plans and strategies to make this happen.
So I completely agree with your aspiration. I am hopeful that we can begin to make some progress. There are some real challenges that are still out there, but we are learning a lot every day as we continue to engage in this work. And so I hope that ten, fifteen years from now we will be able to look back and say, this is a real inflection point in tackling this problem throughout the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And I do hope you have time for just one more question? It came in...a very quick question from the listening party in Madagascar, Radio Oasis asked, “Which country has the most challenging access to water, and how does Madagascar compare in terms of its access?”
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: That’s a hard question to answer because what we find is that there are some countries that are very water rich but still have a tremendous challenge in providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation to their people and managing their water resources well. There are some countries that are incredibly water poor, that do an exceptional job in managing their water resources, that ninety-nine percent of their population have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, that they have the water they need for industry and for agriculture, and the others that they use water for.
So it’s actually not a very easy question to answer. It really is about balancing supply and demand. And we are just now putting in place some of the metrics to begin to look at those types of challenges on a country by country basis in a better way. I would have to look up some of the numbers around Madagascar, but it is one of the places that, if I recall correctly, has done a much better job in managing some of its water resources. It still has some significant challenges in terms of access to drinking water and sanitation and meeting the needs of its people.
So, all countries...all countries have to tackle some very challenging problems. The key challenge, of course, for Madagascar is that it’s off on its own, so to speak. Its water resources come from rainfall, from what exists in the groundwater which is going to be limited because of its coastal environment, and so there is going to be a real pressure on that government to put in place sound plans and strategies if it’s going to meet the future needs of its people.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Special Coordinator Salzberg. Excuse me, Special Coordinator Salzberg, did you have any final words?
SPECIAL COORDINATOR SALZBERG: I just thank everyone for their time and their dedication to this issue. I realize you took time out of your busy days to come in and to engage in this conversation. Many of you are involved through all forms of media where you can reach out and help deliver these messages. You are really on the front lines. And so it is your reporting that can help bring attention to these issues, that can help build support, and catalyze action. So really, thank you very much for taking the time to participate. Good luck, and I look forward to working with all of you in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank Aaron Salzberg, Special Coordinator for Water Resources at the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science for joining us, and to thank all of our callers for participating. And I wish you all a happy Earth Day tomorrow.
If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at email@example.com. Thank you.