04 May 2009

Legislation-in-process: the Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009

Some friends back east sent this press release to me from the Water Advocates non-profit organization based in DC:

Water Advocates Commends New Global Water and Sanitation Bill:
"The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009"

April 27, 2009
Washington, DC
Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives on Earth Day would put the United States in the lead of responding to the worldwide crisis in drinking water and sanitation. The new bill, "The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009," commits the U.S. to extending safe, affordable and sustainable supplies of water and sanitation to 100 million people by 2015. Joining companion legislation introduced in the Senate last month, this major bipartisan initiative would put the U.S. in the forefront of addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for drinking water and sanitation.

Water Advocates commends Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), George Miller (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), John Boozman (R-AZ), Dan Burton (R-IN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Zach Wamp (R-TN) and the Senate's lead sponsors who introduced companion legislation in March: Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Corker (R-TN) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

"No other country has set out to reach as many people in need of safe drinking water and basic sanitation in this period of time," said David Douglas, President of Water Advocates. "This is one of the most effective actions the United States can take to improve health worldwide."

Nearly a billion people currently lack access to safe water, and 2.5 billion people lack a way to dispose of their human wastes safely. More than two dozen resulting diseases-including cholera, typhoid, hookworm and schistosomiasis-trigger the world's most serious public health problem. Diarrheal dehydration caused by these diseases kills more children than AIDS, malaria and TB combined.

Development experts point out that inadequate water and sanitation undermine not only global health but efforts to protect the environment, keep children in school, and empower women. Women and children, as the primary water-haulers across the developing world, bear the brunt of this crisis.

"The Water for the World Act answers the call to act and helps build a healthier, safer and more equitable future," said bill sponsor Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The bill would also strengthen the capacity of USAID and U.S. Department of State to ramp up U.S. developmental and diplomatic leadership, while buttressing American private-citizen initiatives to provide safe, affordable and sustainable drinking water and basic sanitation.

The bill builds on the similarly-named landmark 2005 legislation ("The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act") that at long last made safe drinking water and sanitation a priority of U.S. foreign development assistance.

"This new legislation is critical for bringing support-both financial and human-for the water and sanitation crisis to respectable levels," said Patricia Simon, wife of the late Senator Paul Simon. "We shouldn't forget that this problem is solvable; we know the solutions."

Water Advocates is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing American support for worldwide access to safe, affordable, and sustainable drinking water and adequate sanitation.
That 2005 legislation, "The Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act," (pdf) was also administered by the U.S. Department of State primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and so was focused on specific regions of the world. Some time ago, at the suggestion of a colleague, I started looking at that Act and ended up marking it up quite a bit with comments and questions of my own, as well as going through the State Department's annual reports on progress toward the goals of the Act and making notes there too. Interestingly enough, that was also about the time that I was reading Thomas P.M. Barnett's first two books (The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action) and his blog and my interests in water issues went global. Alas, I have not yet compiled all of those notes and markings for my own blog posts, something of a running commentary on the earlier legislation, but I'll work on that.

For now, I'll simply say that I have much higher hopes for this renewed effort - while legislation of foreign policy does not often go over well (different branches of government, separation of powers and all that), and the 2005 Act was a good attempt at codifying the American dedication to helping solve global health issues, circumstances are simply and significantly different now: a new executive in the White House, a new and less specialized Secretary of State, better cooperation between the State and Defense Departments in places where this kind of foreign aid will do the most good, and a budding recognition that government-driven foreign aid is a crutch that too many countries and peoples fall back on at a (barely) subsistence level of agricultural economy. Aid from foreign governments provides no incentive for those agricultural, often ethnically-divided countries to develop the basics of anything resembling an industrial or service economy into which foreign direct (i.e., private) investment can flow, which is the real route out of poverty for those countries. True globalization, true advancement on economic and information integration with the rest of the world, will not allow such countries to remain politically and economically unstable, and such societies and peoples to remain off-grid forever.

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