In the midst of a minefield on day two of Desert Storm Task Force Ripper, Marine Corps Operations Officer Richard Zilmer stepped out of his armored personnel carrier, squinted up at the sky, and saw nothing but black from horizon to horizon. Iraqi forces, trying desperately to blunt the attack of coalition armies, had set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells and oil-filled trenches.
›March 2, 2015 // By Kate Diamond
In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed a five-year, $7.5 billion aid package for a country it had all but abandoned just 10 years earlier. Indeed, if one word can summarize the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, “volatile” might be it. Since the September 11 attacks, the U.S. has appropriated nearly $61 billion in aid to Pakistan – more than twice what it received since independence in 1947.
With the Obama Administration moving forward on emissions reductions, the deadline for drafting the Sustainable Development Agenda, and a highly anticipated global climate summit in Paris, 2015 promises to be a crucial year for climate policy. “In many ways, last year was the year of building momentum, and this is the year of getting the work done,” said Lisa Friedman, deputy editor of ClimateWire, at the Wilson Center on January 5. [Video Below]
›August 5, 2014 // By Roger-Mark De Souza
“You can’t build a peaceful world on an empty stomach,” Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday at a high-level working session on resilience and food security, quoting Norman Borlaug, the father of last century’s “Green Revolution.”
Why They Care: Reproductive Health Champions Spotlight Personal Connections to Development, Environment, More›
“Saving the planet depends on women achieving full human rights, and that begins with reproductive rights,” writes the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Frances Beinecke in a new set of essays on reproductive health published by the United Nations Foundation and the Aspen Institute.
›February 28, 2013 // By Schuyler Null
Newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry would probably prefer his first few months on the job to be a little quieter. But – in addition to everything else – sequestration is bearing down on Washington this week, and the U.S. government is beginning to seriously take stock of what automated cuts might mean. The Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are not spared. Kerry sent a letter earlier this month to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) outlining the projected effects for his charges if the March 1st deadline should pass without action.
›Wilson Center on the Hill event that took place on August 2, “Debts, Deficits, and Development,” moderated by Wilson Center Senior Scholar John Sewell. Sewell said that Congressional action on deficit reduction could potentially reduce funding for development-related initiatives just as the U.S. government “for the first time…is taking development and the notion of development very seriously.”
After an introduction from Sewell, Gordon Adams, distinguished fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center, began by talking about the lack of attention that international affairs and the civilian side of U.S. international engagement usually receive in the government budget. He noted the growth in personnel and funding at USAID and the Department of State over the past ten years as a success, adding that a fair amount of this growth was related to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global effort against terrorist organizations.
“Foreign policy, development, foreign assistance, [and] diplomacy have increasingly been viewed as a key part of a broadly defined security budget,” said Adams. The first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review had the potential to restructure the Department of State and USAID in line with these goals, he said, but lacked the force to prioritize programs and allocate funds effectively.
In post-conflict environments, Adams emphasized the need to build the capacity to govern effectively, efficiently, and accountably first. “Where we fall down,” added George Ingram, co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, “is in rushing too much money in right as the conflict ends for two or three years and then getting distracted by other crises from year five to ten; when the country’s built up a capacity and probably could use the assistance, our interest falls off.” In his opinion, that sequencing should be reversed.
Focus on Priorities
Adams continued to emphasize the need for goals and priorities when he addressed the topic of belt-tightening at USAID or the Department of State. According to Adams, the four categories to consider in allocating resources are: security assistance; the individual priorities of foreign assistance and development funds; conflict prevention and resolution; and better preparation and training of personnel. He lauded the military’s commitment to training its servicemen and women throughout their careers and suggested a similar program for members of the Foreign Service. To coordinate these priorities, however, a coherent U.S. development strategy (currently lacking) is essential, said Ingram.
Focusing on how the current budget environment is impacting development, Ingram said that the decade of growth in the international affairs budget for development may have just hit a brick wall. He described the FY 2012 budget as “skewed heavily toward reducing the development accounts and protecting the security accounts,” resulting in an 11 percent overall cut from 2011 levels and some development accounts being reduced by 20 or 30 percent.
Ingram noted that USAID’s overall operating expenses were cut by 27 percent from FY 2011 levels. This operating expense reduction will likely halt planned increases in USAID staff and may ultimately lead to staff cuts. The failure to build up staff at USAID will reduce its ability to manage key development programs and slow the Department of Defense’s efforts to shift responsibilities for development work to civilian hands.
Adams added that in light of shrinking resources, legislators will probably ask supporters of development about the tangible outcomes of investment in development and about the link between development and American interests, so they should be prepared with answers. Ingram cited the successes of U.S. aid over the last decades – such as the Green Revolution and oral rehydration – and noted how they benefited from a long-term perspective rather than approaching development on a project-by-project basis.
Given the tumult in the Middle East since the start of the Arab Spring, the need for expertise in governance is high, said Adams. “The problem of governance in failing, fragile, weak, brittle authoritarian states,” he said, “is a great risk to stability.”
Event Resources:Program on America and the Global Economy.
Image Credit: “Foreign Aid Spending,” courtesy of visual.ly user maggie, published by USAID.
Congressional Hearing: Clean Water Access Is a Global Crisis, Human Right, and National Security Issue›March 17, 2011 // By Hannah Marqusee1.8 million deaths each year from diarrhea, “a number that dwarfs the casualties associated with violent conflict,” said U.S. Representative James McGovern at a congressional human rights commission hearing earlier this month on water as a basic right. Nearly all of these deaths are children under the age of five, he said. “This is a war against families, children, and women on an ongoing basis,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, also speaking at the hearing, titled “Realizing the Right to Safe Water and Sanitation.”
There are currently 884 million people in the world without access to safe drinking water, according to UNICEF, and 2.6 billion without improved sanitation. As population growth and climate change place added stress on fresh-water systems, by 2025, two thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed conditions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. “This is a severe global crisis,” said McGovern.
“A Human Right”
With 2011 World Water Day only weeks away, the hearing harkened back to Secretary Clinton’s widely quoted statement from World Water Day 2010, marking a commitment by the Obama administration to address global water issues:
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. Water is that issue.Four months after that statement, the UN passed a resolution to make access to water and sanitation a human right, not just a development priority. Said Catarina de Albuquerque, a UN independent expert who testified at this month’s congressional hearing, the resolution stipulates that water must be “available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and safe.” A “right to water” is an important “sign of political will,” that will place increased obligations on governments to improve access to water and sanitation, she said. But in the meantime, for the millions without access to safe water, “there is no change.”
According to the UN, the world is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the number of people without access to an improved water source by 2015. But de Albuquerque noted that the reality is not quite so optimistic. On a UN fact-finding mission, she encountered at least one family who by UN definitions had access to an “improved drinking water source,” yet their tap water was literally black. “Water quality is not being monitored” and for many of the people who do have access, it is simply “undrinkable,” she said.
In developed countries as well, there are significant barriers to access, especially for marginalized communities. On a recent mission to the United States, de Albuquerque found that America’s “voiceless” – people of color, Native Americans, and the homeless – face significant discrimination in access to water. “Society closes its eyes to them,” she said. Thirteen percent of Native Americans lack access to safe water, in comparison to 0.6 percent of non-native Americans, she said in a statement to the press releasing her findings. And in Boston, “for every one percent increase in the city ward’s percentage of people of color, the number of threatened cut-offs increases by four percent.” To make the necessary improvements to fill these gaps in America’s aging water infrastructure would cost $4 to $6 billion annually, she said.
A National Security Issue
Water “is a security issue as well as a human development issue,” said Blumenauer. Since, according to UNEP, 40 percent of the world relies on river basins that share two or more political boundaries, water management has enormous potential for both conflict and cooperation. Echoing Clinton’s World Water Day statement, McGovern championed the cross-cutting nature of water:
The right to water is inextricably linked with other basic rights…including the right to food, the right to health, and the right to education.The burden of collecting water in underdeveloped countries often creates a gender gap and exposes women and girls to violence and rape, he said. And it “has been the basis for many territorial and violent disputes between various peoples and even nations.”
Last month, a staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed a similar sentiment with the publication of their report, Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The report commends the Obama administration for recognizing the importance of water: “For the first time, senior government officials are recognizing the critical role that sound water management must play in achieving our foreign policy goals and in protecting our national security.” However, by exclusively focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan’s water issues and “neglecting the interconnectivity of water issues between Central and South Asia, the U.S. approach could exacerbate regional tensions,” the report says.
To be more strategic about water assistance, the report recommends the United States: (1) provide technical support in data collection to better manage water; (2) help increase water efficiency and reduce demand for water; (3) recognize the transboundary nature of water issues and “provide holistic solutions;” and (4) “safeguard institutions against shocks to water supply and demand.”
The Obama administration’s commitment to water issues, the UN’s recognition of water as a human right, and the 2005 Water for the Poor Act have all been important steps towards fulfilling the pledge of making access to safe water a human right. “We’ve come a long way,” Blumenauer (who authored the Water for the Poor Act) said at the hearing, but there is still significant work ahead.
“We’re going to have to be more strategic moving forward” in order to meet global water shortages, said Aaron Salzberg, special coordinator for water resources for the U.S. Department of State who testified at the hearing. Salzberg recommended that the U.S. government take steps to integrate water management with the food and health sectors; build political will; mobilize financial support; promote science and technology; and form partnerships with other governments and aid organizations. The United States must also “be smarter” about allocating funds based on the dual criteria of “need” and “opportunity.” Balancing efforts with partners to find out which countries have the greatest need and the least resources will allow limited U.S. funds to make the deepest impact, he said.
John Oldfield, managing director of the WASH Advocacy Initiative, urged Congress to increase funding for foreign assistance, continue appropriations for the Water for the Poor Act, and improve the effectiveness of existing water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance. “Each dollar invested in water and sanitation leads to an 8:1 return from reduced healthcare costs and time savings,” he said. “The world does not need to bury millions more of its children in the coming years when we know how to prevent waterborne disease today.”
Sources: FAO, UNEP, UNICEF, United Nations, WHO.
Image Credit: Adapted from “School girl drinks water from new handpump,” courtesy of flickr user waterdotorg.
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