“Water access is no longer simply a global health and development issue; it is a mortal and long-term threat that is increasingly becoming a national security issue,” said Senator Richard Durbin at a March 17, 2009, event on Capitol Hill. Introducing the Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009, Senator Durbin called for renewed American leadership on the global water crisis plaguing billions around the world.
“The United States needs to do much more to ensure that global water access is protected and expanded,” he said. Senator Durbin’s remarks come on the heels of the Fifth Global Water Forum held in Istanbul, Turkey this week, and precede UN World Water Day on March 22, 2009.
“The global water crisis is a quiet killer,” Durbin said. “In the developing world, 5,000 children die every day from easily preventable water-related illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, and malaria, diseases that have been all but eradicated in wealthier nations.”
But these efforts need to be scaled up to reach the billions of people without clean water. According to Representative Earl Blumenauer, speaking at the same event, there are more people in the world today without access to adequate sanitation than the populations of China and India combined. The Water for the World Act of 2009 will seek to provide “100 million people around the world with sustainable access to clean water and sanitation by 2015,” said Durbin.
In addition, if passed, the act will make water a development priority for U.S. foreign assistance and “designates within the State Department a high-level representative to ensure that water receives priority attention in our foreign policy, and establishes a new Office of Water at USAID to implement development assistance efforts related to water,” Durbin said.
Access to clean water and adequate sanitation is a cornerstone for sustainable development around the world. Developing countries will not be able to build their economies or bring their resources to fruition if people in these countries have to travel for hours to find water, or are “too sick from drinking unsafe water, to work or to go to school,” Durbin warned.
Improving access to safe water will not only reduce mortality from waterborne illness, but will help provide long-term stability in countries that suffer from population pressures due large population growth from high total fertility rates. In developing countries, 3,900 children under 5 years old die every day from waterborne illness. “Mothers who fear the deaths of their children bear more, in a desperate race against the odds,” said Senator Durbin. While access to education and family planning programs is also essential to reducing high fertility rates in developing countries, so too is basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
But funding for water infrastructure and sanitation programs is just the first step. In developing countries, poor governance is a major roadblock to implementing successful development projects. Unregulated privatization of water can prevent the “voiceless and powerless” poor from gaining access to the water services they need, Durbin cautioned.
To address the challenges of governance, the bill will help “build the capacity of poor nations to meet their own water and sanitation challenges,” Durbin said, by providing “technical assistance, best practices, credit authorities, and training to help countries expand access to clean water and sanitation.”
Working to ensure access to safe water and adequate sanitation can help implement the “smart power” strategy the U.S. desperately needs during a period when the world is redefining America – a strategy to help provide “things people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain in the absence of American leadership,” writes the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Commission on Smart Power.