As Americans gather together this holiday season, many will take a moment to give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Most will be thankful for their family and friends. What will likely go unmentioned and unconsidered is an appreciation for the access to two basic necessities that many of us take for granted: access to water and adequate sanitation.
This is why it is important for all Americans to remember the 884 million people across the planet who went without access to clean water this year and the 2.5 billion who went without adequate sanitation. Without access to these basic building blocks of modern society, many of our brothers and sisters in undeveloped nations have also likely been left without the ability to pursue productive work because of health problems that hamper productivity and discourage economic investment.
The countries of the world, including the United States, have come together to say that we can do better. A set of shared goals -- entitled the Millennium Development Goals -- have set specific targets relating to increasing access to water and sanitation by 2015. With these goals, the international community has pledged to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or afford, safe drinking water.
As the 111th Congress draws to a close, members of the House and Senate have a time-sensitive opportunity to make good on that promise. Important legislation entitled the "Water for the World Act" (H.R. 2035, S. 624) has already passed the Senate and is close to making its way to the president's desk. This legislation, authored by my colleague Dick Durbin in the Senate and Earl Blumenauer in the House, would help the United States take a huge step forward in streamlining and focusing our foreign aid commitments when it comes to providing access to water.
• Establishes an Office of Water within USAID to implement country-specific water strategies;
• Creates a Special Coordinator for International Water within the State Department to coordinate the diplomatic policy of the US with respect to global freshwater issues;
• Establishes programs in countries of greatest need that invest in local capacity, education, and coordination with US efforts; and
• Emphasizes cross-border and cross-discipline collaboration and the utilization of low-cost technologies, such as hand-washing stations and latrines.
If enacted, this bill could help 50 to 100 million people over the next six years. The bill would also provide a gift to the American people by spreading good will abroad and, thus, strengthening our national security through the exercise of soft power. Let's move this legislation across the finish line and provide millions of our fellow world citizens with the gift of water and, most importantly, a sense of hope for a better tomorrow.