From The Editor | January 24, 2018

U.S. Water Strategy: Think Locally, Act Globally


By Kevin Westerling,

A new plan has been created by the U.S. government to bring safe drinking water, sanitation services, sustainability, and resiliency to the world’s most water-stressed countries, with benefits for the U.S. as well.

As we recently commenced a new year and the second of Donald Trump’s presidency, here’s a quote from Mr. Trump that should resonate with Water Innovations readers:

“Water may be the most important issue we face for the next generation.”

The statement appears on the opening page of the U.S. Government’s “Global Water Strategy” document, published in November 2017, which outlines how water security and sanitation issues around the world could impact U.S. interests, as well as how the U.S. endeavors to combat these issues. It’s “America First” by way of first helping others — a win-win in that the national interest coincides with bringing clean drinking water and sanitation services to those in need around the world.

As the annual “Top 10 Trends” edition will attest, the U.S. is awash in water technology and innovation, but the Global Water Strategy is concerned with the have-nots and points to a different trend, stating: “There is a growing global water crisis that may increase disease, undermine economic growth, foster insecurity and state failure. ...”

The damaging effects of water scarcity are both direct (famine, disease) and indirect, including creating conditions of unrest that could aid in the recruitment of terrorists. The reach of a water crisis is indeed considerable, potentially reaching all the way to American shores. But U.S. resources and capabilities, within both the public and private sectors, are considerable as well. Here are the four strategic objectives the U.S. will undertake through various agencies, including the Department of State, the Agency for International Development (USAID), NASA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Agriculture, among others, to solve foreign water problems before they become U.S. problems.

  • Promote sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, and the adoption of key hygiene behaviors.

Why: The Strategy cites a report from the UNICEF/World Health Organization indicating that, as of 2015, 2.1 billion people, or 29 percent of the global population, lacked clean drinking water access, while 4.5 billion (61 percent) were without properly managed sanitation.

  • Encourage the sound management and protection of freshwater resources.

Why: This time citing a World Bank Group report, the Strategy notes that “By 2050, some regions could see their economic growth decline by as much as six percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of water pollution, increasing water demand, and dwindling water supplies.”

  • Reduce conflict by promoting cooperation on shared waters.

Why: Data compiled from the UN indicates that there are more than 260 river basins and 600 aquifers that are shared between countries, often with competing interests and no formal agreement on water rights.

  • Strengthen water sector governance, financing, and institutions.

Why: Successful development of sustainable water and sanitation services comes only when it is prioritized with government plans and policies. In concert with transparent management of water resources, this success will attract investment that can further expand and improve services.

And How

To help water-poor countries meet the objectives above, the U.S. plans to provide technical assistance as well as promote science, technology, and information. They will strategically invest in sustainable infrastructure and services in addition to mobilizing financial resources. The U.S. will also engage diplomatically and strengthen partnerships and intergovernmental organizations.

It is noted, however, that while the U.S. can lend a helping hand and some dollars, the onus is on each country to invest in its own future. “Foreign assistance can only provide a small portion of the funds needed to meet water and sanitation needs globally and must be used strategically to mobilize financial resources from host country governments, the private sector, and capital markets, where appropriate,” the “Strategy” states.

In other words, each country must ultimately look after its own. For the U.S., looking after its own means extending help to others. Regardless of motivation, bringing clean water and sanitation to more of the world’s population can save countless lives, so it has to be considered a winning strategy.

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