skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

As UN-Water Hosts Water Day in Rio, Congress Poised to Take Step towards Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Elizabeth Shope

Posted June 19, 2012

, , , , , , , ,
Share | | |

This afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, important legislation that aims to bring safe drinking water and sanitation to 100 million people around the globe. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people – both government officials and members of civil society – have converged in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Rio+20 Earth Summit, where today is Water Day.

More than 800 million people in the world lack access to safe drinking water, and 2 and a half billion people – over a third of the world’s population – lack access to adequate sanitation. Safe drinking water and sanitation are basic human rights so it is critical that both developed and developing countries take action to address the water and sanitation crisis. This is why the events occurring this week are so important. In Rio and in this legislation, people are taking a hard look at safe drinking water and sanitation in a holistic way – not just water and sanitation as a human right, but their connection with freshwater ecosystems, climate, energy, food, public health, education, gender and more.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems provide the basis for water supply, flood control, food and numerous other services on which millions depend for human health and well-being. Promoting integrated approaches to water, sanitation and hygiene and freshwater conservation is a critical need and is essential to meeting both human and ecosystem protection goals. Equally important is working to solve water and climate issues together: in working to mitigate environmental issues including climate change, we must do so in a way that is respectful of the needs of developing countries where many people still lack access to safe drinking water; and we must ensure that that future water supply and sanitation infrastructure is climate-resistant so as to avoid catastrophic setbacks.

One of the main focuses going into the Earth Summit has been the outcome document. Even more important than the outcome document, however, are the new relationships and partnerships being forged and the knowledge being shared at the Earth Summit, and the individual commitments and actions that will be taken moving forwards not just by Member States, but state and local governments, businesses, universities, and other entities. There are more than a dozen side events this week on water in Rio, with topics ranging from the human right to water and sanitation, to food, water and energy security issues in the Southern hemisphere, transboundary waters and climate change, and scaling up solutions. And today, at UN-Water Day, attendees are discussing a wide range of water issues, and UN-Water is releasing its Status Report on the Application of Integrated Approaches to Development, Management and Use of Water Resources. In a voting process held by the UN on what the public wanted as the main outcomes from Rio, securing water supply by protecting biodiversity, ecosystems and water resources ranked number 3

So what does this mean for the United States? After all, most people in the United States are able to wake up, walk into their private bathroom, turn on the faucet, brush their teeth, use their toilet and flush it, and take a shower with hot running water. The United States has the opportunity today to take an important step towards helping to solve the safe drinking water and sanitation crisis. The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is marking up the Water for the World Act this afternoon. To become law, the legislation will also have to pass a vote by the full Senate, and will have to pass on the House side. But first things first: today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should pass the Water for the World Act.

This legislation has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.  It would improve upon and facilitate the implementation of the 2005 Water for the Poor Act, solidifying higher level positions in the State Department and USAID for handling these issues, and encouraging collaboration between  those working on water and sanitation, and those working on environmental, public health, education, gender and other issues. The Water for the World Act would also work to make water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs more sustainable in the long-term, and aims to target aid towards those with the greatest need. It is time for the United States to get serious about water; passing the Water for the World Act should be the first step.

 Women carrying unsafe water home Tigray Ethiopia credit waterdotorg.JPGWomen and children carrying unsafe water home that they collected from their existing, unimproved water source. Tigray, Ethiopia. Credit: Gary White,


Share | | |


Cody ZossJun 19 2012 08:49 PM

Great article! As a regional director for The Borgen Project I have been urging my representatives to cosponsor S. 641 and H.R. 3658 for months. Senator Harkin cosponsored the Senate version in March, so Borgen's supporters and I were very pleased with that!

Do we know what the vote was on the legislation today? I did not find anything on the Committee's webpage in regards to S. 641.

Elizabeth ShopeJun 19 2012 11:30 PM

Thanks, Cody -- for your comment and all your work on this. Good news: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed S. 641 - The Water for the World Act - today! I have another blog on that in the works, so stay tuned.

Cody ZossJun 20 2012 12:18 PM

Sounds great! Thank you for the update. Keep up the great work!

Gene ErwinJun 21 2012 03:42 AM

The United States cannot afford to do this. We are already trillions in debt. When will the excess spending end? How can you spend money that cannot be paid back.

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In