Does anyone remember when our elected representatives were highly respected statesmen, willing to put aside partisan differences to work together and find pragmatic, common-sense solutions to important problems? It appears that once again Rep. Earl Blumenauer has placed himself in that mold, joining together with Texas Representative Ted Poe (R-Tex.) to co-sponsor the Water for the World Act 2012, strengthening U.S. foreign assistance in water and sanitation.
The legislation is simple and straight-forward, focusing on "leveraging innovation, strengthening partnerships, and improving transparency and accountability." And perhaps best of all- considering the mood regarding austerity permeating the nation's capital- it doesn't add a dime to the foreign assistance budget. Instead, the Water for the World Act simply re-prioritizes the role of providing clean water and sanitation through U.S. foreign assistance efforts by elevating the Global Water Coordinator within USAID to "integrate and implement water strategies, and deliver aid more effectively." Other features of the legislation include elevating the existing position of the Special Adviser for Water Resources within the State Department; increase sustainability of water projects to ensure investments lead to long-term operation; take steps to ensure that our foreign assistance dollars are going to meet the water needs of poor communities; and develop transparency and accountability measures so that USAID and the State Department can identify best practices. In other words, no new government programs or positions would be created through this legislation. Funding will be provided for efforts that are all ready occurring regarding water and sanitation through foreign assistance, except done in a more efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective manner.
Before any mumbling by nay-sayers begins wondering why "we need to help other countries with their water problems when we have so many problems here in our country" considering the following quote from Representative Poe:
“Water is key to just about every kind of development,” said Poe. “If we don’t get water right, it >doesn’t matter how many schools we build or vaccines we pass out- we might as well throw our >money down the drain. This bill is about using taxpayer dollars more effectively by making water a >priority in any development discussion- like it should be.”
While some may view the role of foreign development funded by the United States with skepticism, Rep. Poe's point that water is the key allowing for schools and vaccines is valid. As American farmers in the 1930s Dust Bowl learned, it is impossible to grow food- even for sustenance levels- without water. According to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion in the world lack access to clean water while 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation. Look at the graphic that accompanies this story, showing the deaths per million caused by unsafe water, sanitation, or hygiene. Consider that all of Africa, a wide swath of Middle East, and a chunk of South Asia are where the most of these deaths occur- the same global areas that are the main focus of U.S. foreign policy. Without being able to provide the development and infrastructure allowed through availability of clean water, countries run the risk of becoming failed states. And failed states, as we have seen over the past decade, run the risk of becoming breeding grounds for terrorists or allowing the opportunity for illiberal dictators to rise into power.
Clearly, providing fresh water, sanitation, and hygiene serves in the U.S.'s best interest. And the World Water Act is a common-sense piece of legislation to address these issues in a responsible manner. Kuods to Reps. Blumenauer and Poe for co-sponsoring this legislation, which should hopefully make it through Congress with little problem.
Of course, with the current Congress and its lack of willingness to set aside partisan differences to address important issues, that's easier said than done. And let's not forget that Blumenauer got burned in the previous Congress with an attempt to co-sponsor bipartisan legislation to address end-of-life planning.