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We can do better on water

We can do better on water
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This World Water Day, we should celebrate what too many of us take for granted: safe drinking water.

Access to safe drinking water is the foundation of a healthy community and a healthy environment. Yet, too many people lack this basic need. The numbers are staggering. Nearly 800 million people around the world are currently living without clean drinking water, and half the people in hospital beds at any given time are sick because of unsafe water.

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This is one of the most pressing challenges we face — both at home and abroad.

Here in the United States, the lead-poisoned water tragedy in Flint, Mich., sheds light on systemic failures of crumbling water systems all over the country. Our nation’s water infrastructure is too often out of sight and out of mind. The state of our water pipes and water systems after years of inaction is troubling — the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation’s water infrastructure a “D” in its most recent report card. We’re not making the investments needed to maintain and repair our water systems, and we haven’t for decades. Federal support for water infrastructure has fallen some 80 percent since 1980. It’s estimated that we need to invest more than $19 billion per year to ensure safe tap water in the United States. Yet Congress appropriates an average of less than $1 billion per year.

Internationally, water conditions not only raise health and environmental concerns but also have serious security implications. Water, or the lack thereof, is at the core of global conflicts and destabilizes countries. We’ve seen this in Syria, where the drought drove people from the countryside to the cities — exacerbating the country’s underlying political challenges and fueling the civil war. Troublingly, the Gaza Strip is on the verge of a similar crisis. Home to nearly 2 million people, Gaza is one of the most water-stressed areas on the planet. The water supply, largely groundwater, is being rapidly depleted and polluted. Before the year is out, all of it will likely be unfit for human consumption, as it is contaminated with sewage from above and with salt-water encroachment into the aquifer from the Mediterranean Sea below.

We can and must do better.

Domestically, we must make the investments that great nations make. That’s why I recently introduced the Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act, bipartisan legislation to create a dedicated source of revenue for states and local governments to invest in critical clean water and drinking water projects. This targeted bill is the first of many steps we must take. In 2016, no American family should have to worry about the safety of their water.

Internationally, greater investment in clean water and sanitation development assistance for the global poor is a necessity. The passage of my legislation, the Water for the Poor Act and the Water for the World Act, makes sure improved water and sanitation is a goal of U.S. foreign assistance and ensures that this programming will help our most vulnerable populations. Providing higher funding levels for such programming, we have the ability to remedy dire situations like the one in Gaza, where we are paying more to supply bottled water than would be necessary to build a desalinization plant for which funding has already been committed by several international partners.

The national and global need for increased investment in water infrastructure is desperate and urgent. We have the resources to take action. What’s been lacking is the urgency to pull the pieces together. This World Water Day, let’s focus our attention on solving these challenges in the coming months to spare unimaginable and unnecessary human tragedy.

Blumenauer has represented Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District since 1996. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.