TACOMA, Washington — Millions of people across the globe do not have access to clean and safe drinking water, creating serious global health impacts. The impact stretches even further than just health. Lack of access to clean water exacerbates poverty in developing countries, affecting food security and economic growth, among other impacts. The U.S. Global Water Strategy was launched in 2017 with the aim of creating “a water-secure world where people have sustainable supplies of water of sufficient quantity and quality to meet human, economic and ecosystem needs.” The Strategy is required by the Water for the World Act of 2014; thus, these efforts include high-priority countries designated by the Act. Several agencies and departments, led by the U.S. Department of State and USAID, contribute to the development and implementation of the Strategy.
The Water for the World Act
The Water for the World Act passed in 2014. This Act directs the U.S. to be a global leader in improving global water and sanitation since these are crucial resources that impact many aspects of an individual’s life. The Act stipulates that the administrator of USAID should also serve as the USAID global water coordinator. This role requires the administrator to revise USAID’s portion of the Global Water Strategy at least once every five years and to extend USAID water and sanitation programs in high-priority countries.
USAID produces a list of high-priority countries that will receive water and sanitation assistance through the Strategy. For 2021, USAID has re-designated the same 18 countries chosen for prioritization in 2020. These high-priority countries are evaluated every five years to determine progress. USAID is also launching country-specific plans that set out USAID’s investment strategy over the next five years, with the aim of improving water security, sanitation and hygiene. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the speed of implementation is more important than ever.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, USAID Water and Sanitation Advisor Patricia Mantey explained that in selecting high-priority countries, “the U.S. Government will focus its efforts on those countries where the needs and opportunities are greatest and where U.S. engagement can best protect our national security interests.” Due to these criteria, countries defined as high-priority are constantly changing.
U.S. foreign policy interests also determine which countries receive water service assistance. Decision-makers lean toward countries where improved infrastructure may be mutually beneficial and sustainable in the long run. Four factors qualify high-priority countries, as defined by Mantey: the level of need, the host country’s ability to work with the United States, opportunities to leverage support in the U.S. private sector and the ability to improve quality of life for women and girls.
USAID works to improve water quality in two ways. The first method, Mantey defines as improvements to people’s drinking water service. For instance, moving away from drinking water sources like unprotected springs and rivers as these sources pose safety risks and have a high probability of being contaminated. Instead, these sources should be replaced by a safer water source like a piped water system that is monitored and managed for water quality.
Secondly, USAID works to reduce water contamination by improving sanitation. USAID does not directly monitor water quality, but tracks increased access to sustainable water sources and improved sanitation.
Impacts and Successes
On a worldwide level, within the first two years of implementing the strategy, global progress was made. Between 2018 and 2019, 11.6 million people gained access to sustainable drinking water sources.
Furthermore, in the same period, 10.6 million people were able to access sustainable sanitation services. These successes are a result of collaborative efforts under the Global Water Strategy, aiming to improve water and sanitation globally.
Water for the World
Former World Vision President Richard Stearns said, “The Water for the World Act is a beautiful example of our nation’s leaders coming together to work on this critical piece of the poverty puzzle.” The Global Water Strategy recognizes the power of water access. It states that “water can be a means of strengthening governance, civil society engagement and resilience at all levels.” Through the Water for the World Act and the Global Water Strategy, the U.S. shows its commitment to improving water and sanitation access and contributing to the alleviation of global poverty.
– Kate Lucht and Laney Pope