03.31.14

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) On the 21st Anniversary of World Water Day

Mr. President, March 21 was the 21st anniversary of World Water Day. On this day, we call attention to the centrality of water in our lives and communities, and we recognize the vital work that must continue to ensure that every person has access to clean water and sanitation.

   The acute challenges in improving access to clean water and sanitation in developing countries are well known. Nearly 800 million people lack clean water and more than 2 billion people are without basic sanitation. In a world of increasing water scarcity and climate unpredictability, the risks associated with an unstable water supply will only intensify. A wide assortment of global health and development challenges can be traced directly, or indirectly, to a lack of access to clean water and integrated water resource management.

   In recent years, the depth and pervasiveness of these problems have gained increasing attention. In 2000, the U.S. signed the Millennium Development Goals, one of which seeks to halve the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation by 2015. This attention has also led to the formation of international partnerships such as Water and Sanitation for All in 2012, of which the United States is an active member. As projections stand now, the MDG clean water target has already been met while there is still a long way to go in reaching the sanitation goal by 2015.

   The United States has long been a leader in supporting efforts to improve global access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and water resource management. The Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, a bill which I strongly supported, was the first major legislation enacted to make access to clean water and sanitation a U.S. foreign policy priority. Each year, as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, I have included increasing amounts of funding to implement the Paul Simon Act.

   We should reflect on the legacy of the late Senator Simon and take a moment to recognize and appreciate his contributions to making clean water a development priority. His work is carried on through the programs and policies of the legislation that bears his name.

   On World Water Day, we should also recognize the indispensable work that has been done by governments, NGO's, and private companies to provide access to clean water and sanitation. I have visited Haiti three times in recent years to inspect the work of rebuilding crucial infrastructure, shattered by the earthquake. My wife Marcelle worked for many years as a registered nurse. In 2012 she saw, firsthand, some of these vital clean water and sanitation initiatives. A nonprofit organization, Pure Water for the World, based in Rutland, VT, implements a sustainable model for clean water programs in developing countries by building low-cost water filtration systems, installing latrines to improve sanitation, and providing hygiene education in local communities.

   We must also realize how much work is still left to do in this area of development, and understand that to tackle 21st century problems we need innovative solutions. The release of the U.S. Agency for International Development's new water strategy last year was an important step, especially with its focus on sustainability and enhanced monitoring and evaluation of projects.

   I will continue to support USAID's work to carry out its mission and the strategic objectives in the water strategy. More than $365 million was included for WASH programs in the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill that was signed into law on January 17. Congress should also pass the Water for the World Act, which would give USAID additional tools to address these critical issues.

   Lastly, I want to highlight the theme of this year's World Water Day, which is ``water and energy.'' The links between water and energy cannot be ignored. Nearly eight percent of all global energy is used to transport, pump, and treat water for a variety of consumers, while energy generation and transmission also requires massive water resources. With more than a billion people also lacking access to electricity, we need to address both these issues together.

   World Water Day reminds us how fortunate we are in the United States to be able to turn on a faucet and have clean water, because for many hundreds of millions of people this luxury is not close to a reality. While we have made progress in bringing clean water and sanitation to millions across the world, there is still much work to be done. 

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