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Clinton and Zoellick sign an agreement on World Water Day which could advance technical work and focus on water

Heather Allen

Posted March 22, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, U.S. Law and Policy

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Today on World Water Day as people around the world celebrated, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Robert Zoellick President of the World Bank signed a broad agreement on water.   The room was packed as Clinton presented the case for water and sanitation.

Thumbnail image for hillary.jpgThank you to WaterAID America for the photos!

The Atrium of the World Bank was crowded with people standing for over an hour eager to hear how the new agreement could advance access to clean water.   Representatives from the World Bank U.S. Government, Coca Cola, many non-profit organizations and humanitarian organizations spoke about their on-going projects and the need for greater investment in water and sanitation.  

clinton and zoellick.jpgHaving briefly seen a copy of the MOU (I will post it here as soon as it becomes available on-line), it appears the agreement could provide a framework to connect technical expertise from U.S. agencies to the people who need it most.   Today’s agreement identifies a suite of potential areas of cooperation between the United States and the Bank - many of which are already on-going (for example: weather and climate prediction and hydrologic modeling, and installation of water and sanitation systems).  There are no new funds associated with the agreement so the question is: what is new here?

From my experience having worked in the Federal Government, there are two critical things that this MOU is likely to facilitate on the U.S. side:

  • Fast-tracking water projects for a wider range of U.S. agencies:  

While many agencies are engaged in water related programming around the world, USAID is the agency primarily tasked with addressing water and sanitation, freshwater ecosystems, and water for food and agriculture through community based development programs.   Congress appropriates the bulk of its funds for international water to USAID, on the order of 300 million in recent years. Yet other key technical agencies have valuable expertise in water; like the United States Geological Survey which monitors water levels around the country, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which predicts rain and collects data on melting glaciers, and Centers for Disease Control which respond to outbreaks of waterborne illness.  These agencies and so many more are poised to work alongside communities around the world that struggle with some of these same challenges.   A quick example is the work that the National Weather Service is doing in partnership with Mexico to improve river and flash flood forecasting and studies related to sustainable development.  The agreement should make it easier for these agencies to work together within government and partner with organizations in other countries and the World Bank to do water-related projects.

  • Prioritization of water

Last year Hillary Clinton’s speech on World Water Day catapulted water to the top of the mind among the diplomatic and humanitarian communities.  Previously water had done well in Congress (regularly receiving signficant appropriations and passing the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act), however focus from the White House or Administration had been lacking.  

In Clinton’s 2010 speech she called water the ‘wellspring of all life’, and characterized it as central to international development.  From that speech and other actions over the last year we have seen significant progress toward prioritizing water.  Just last month the Rajiv Shah the Administrator of USAID appointed Chris Holmes to be the new Global Water Coordinator – a position designed to help build a water strategy across government agencies.  In addition President Obama requested just over 300 million for water appropriations for 2012 – the largest amount ever, indicating an increasing focus on water.

This MOU will help to ground these advances and build support at all levels throughout government agencies for cooperation on water.  Agreements like these can be powerful tools to support innovative projects on water, because they make it clear that the highest levels of government intend to see progress here.  

Today’s agreement on water helps people in the World Bank and the U.S. Government focus attention where we need it most – to bring water and sanitation to the billions who lack it, a great reason to celebrate on World Water Day.

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