Politics stops at water

Since Congress passed the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005, the U.S. has become a global leader on efforts to increase access to clean water and sanitation, developing and implementing some of the most innovative approaches to help those in greatest need.  We must not only maintain this progress, but work to refine and focus the efforts at USAID and the Department of State by enacting the Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013, which we are introducing this week.

Both of us committed to this issue because dirty water and a lack of sanitation affect all areas of development assistance.  This is especially true when it comes to women and children.  More children are killed by water-related diseases than any other. Increasing access to clean water and sanitation has a significant multiplier effect on other areas of development, enabling the U.S. to do more with less, which is critical at a time of constrained federal resources.

Every day, the world becomes more crowded, with fewer freshwater resources.  This bipartisan legislation will enable the U.S. to give water and basic sanitation the attention needed to avoid greater and unnecessary loss of life and conflict in the future.  Our legislation would ensure water, sanitation, and hygiene programs are reflected in other development assistance; prioritize long-lasting impacts of U.S. foreign aid dollars; and increase the focus on monitoring, evaluation, transparency and capacity building.

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Children cannot attend school if they are sick from dirty water. Half of the world's hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water-related illnesses who cannot work to support their families. Hours spent looking for and collecting clean water are hours not spent adding to their local economy.  In short, the best intentioned efforts at development will fail without access to clean water.

A lack of clean water has a disproportionate effect on women, who, in developing countries, walk an average of 3.7 miles every day to get water. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 40 billion working hours are lost each year in Africa alone to gather water.  Not only does the freedom from spending hours each day collecting water means girls can go to school and build a better life, but it reduces the threat of violence and sexual assault. A study by Doctors Without Borders found that 82 percent of women treated for rape in West and South Darfur were attacked while gathering water, firewood, or thatch.

To understand just how critical this issue will be in the future, consider:  Over 97 percent of water on Earth is salty, and unfit to drink.  Of the two and a half percent of Earth’s water that is fresh, two-thirds is frozen, leaving less than 1 percent of global freshwater available for human use.  Of that, 90 percent goes toward growing food, raising livestock, energy and industry use. Thus, only 0.1% of the Earth’s water that is available for people to drink.  This tiny fraction is diminished by deficient or nonexistent water infrastructure. Even in the U.S. we lose over 6 billion gallons of water every day through leaky pipes. It’s no wonder that we’re entering an era of severe water scarcity that the Defense Department warns could lead to global insecurity.

There is nothing more fundamental to the human condition and global health than access to clean water and sanitation. More needs to be done, and it needs to be done well. Taxpayers are rightly demanding better results and greater transparency from foreign aid. This bill provides the tools and incentives to do just that.  We urge our colleagues to adopt our motto – politics stops at water – and support us in our efforts. An issue of this magnitude will take a team working together, united in the goal of saving lives and improving communities around the world.

Blumenauer has represented Oregon's 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives since 1997. He sits on the Budget and the Ways and Means committees. Poe has represented Texas's 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees.