Keynote remarks at the 3rd International Emerging Technology Symposium
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Today and tomorrow, we have come together to explore solutions and emerging technologies in water efficiency, plumbing and mechanical industries. Most of the organizations here today have been working on these issues domestically and internationally for decades. You protect our health and ensure that our water is safe to drink.
Whenever I travel, I’m reminded of how fortunate we are in the United States to be able to turn on a tap, even a public drinking fountain in a park, and drink right from it. Your work—as plumbers, city and municipal water managers, code officials, manufacturers, and engineers—makes this possible. Thank you.
In many countries, people cannot drink from the tap and millions of people have no access to a tap—no running water. They may have to walk miles to go and get water. The water they get may not be even close to the water we are used to. Both at home and abroad, water security is becoming one of the great challenges of our time. The statistics are shocking.
Today, nearly 800 million people lack access to an “improved” drinking water source. A source that’s protected from animals and debris—such as a well or a community tap. It’s likely that 2 to 3 times that many people lack access to water that is considered safe to drink.
More than two and a half billion people lack access to basic sanitation. In India, the latest census tells us that more people have access to mobile phones than to toilets.
Taken together, lack of access to safe drinking water, basic sanitation, and poor hygiene practices pose one of our greatest health risks worldwide. Each day, nearly 6,000 people—mostly children under five—die from preventable diarrheal diseases.
Women and children are disproportionately impacted. In some regions of the world, women and girls spend an average of three hours a day collecting water to meet their family’s needs. This can often mean walking through isolated, unsafe areas that put women and girls at risk. Girls are also more likely to stop attending school when appropriate sanitation facilities are not available.
Water is critical to global food and energy security, the environment, and responding to climate change. More than 70% of water used globally goes towards agriculture. In some developing countries agricultural consumption can be as high as 90 to 95%. As populations continue to grow and countries develop, demand for water will increase—both because of increased grain production and also because diets are likely to shift towards higher calorie foods as countries develop. As countries shift away from grains towards meat, water consumption will also grow. Water quality on the coasts, and in rivers and streams, is also important for food—as fish are a significant source of protein for more than two and a half billion people in developing countries.
As you know, water and energy are tightly linked. And water is needed for most kinds of energy production. Water can produce energy—harnessing moving water for hydropower and irrigating crops used for biofuels are good examples. Providing water can also be an energy drain—as water is heavy. Moving it from one place to another takes a lot of energy.
Water also plays an important role in peace and security. More than 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries, basins such as the Mekong, the Nile, and in our own backyard, the Rio Grande. As the need for water increases, competition over scarce water resources is likely to rise. Some of you have seen the recent Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security. It was requested by Secretary Clinton to get a better sense of how international water issues would impact U.S. security interests. While the report suggests that state-on-state conflict over water is unlikely in the next 10 years, it demonstrates that water issues will play an increasing role in the peace and security of many regions we care about. Many of these challenges are likely to intensify.
By 2025, experts predict that nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live under water-stressed conditions. Climate change will have profound impacts. While conditions will vary depending on the region, wet regions may become wetter and dry regions drier. Glaciers, which help store water in many regions of the world, will recede and sea levels will rise. Changing patterns in rainfall are projected to increase the number and severity of floods and droughts. Rising sea levels, storm surges, flood damage, and saltwater intrusion will threaten people, infrastructure, and agricultural production.
While this is a very challenging picture—there are solutions. In most places, there is enough water to meet needs. With the right management measures, sufficient safe water could be provided to the people who need it. We have seen many countries doing more with less, including the United States. Organizations such as yours have been showing the way with new technologies and approaches that use less water, less energy, and increase water reuse. We need to be smarter about how we use our water. Smarter about how we manage ecosystems, like wetlands, and man-made infrastructure, like canals. To insure sustainable water supplies and to better manage extreme hydrological events.
Two years ago, on World Water Day, Secretary Clinton announced five steps that the United States would take to advance water security. (http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/03/138737.htm)
The first step is to build political will. Perhaps the greatest impediment we face is that governments themselves are not committed. We are working with donor countries and international organizations to raise awareness and to encourage developing countries to prioritize water and sanitation in national plans and budgets to integrate water into global food security, health, and climate change initiatives. We have seen a number of cases where a country has turned itself around and made significant progress in meeting water and sanitation needs of its people. Allow me to give you some examples of how we are working on this topic of building political will.
Last month, we worked with a number of international partners to host a meeting of finance ministers on the margins of the World Bank/IMF meetings here in Washington. For many countries, it was the first time their finance ministers participated in a meeting on water. It was a great opportunity for us to speak on the economic consequences of ignoring water and sanitation challenges. And we discussed steps they could take to address these issues. When you explain to finance ministers that these challenges could cost 5 to 10% of a country’s GDP. Well, you have their attention.
Another example is the Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security, I mentioned earlier. Having a consensus view from the intelligence community—as was the case for the assessment—can do a lot for motivating action worldwide.
The second step is to build and strengthen institutional and human capacity at the local, national and regional levels. While countries and communities must take the lead in securing their own water futures, we are helping to build capacity to understand and respond to these challenges. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Millennium Challenge Cooperation are working to reduce water related disease, increase agricultural productivity with reduced water consumption, and build resiliency to climate change. The United States also works with governments to improve national and regional management of water. The State Department has been working to support cooperation on shared waters throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Last year, Secretary Clinton and World Bank President Robert Zoellick signed an MOU on World Water Day. The goal is to expand joint efforts to create a more water-secure future for the world. This partnership should greatly enhance our collective and individual capacities to address global water and sanitation challenges, reinforcing ongoing areas of cooperation and opening up new avenues for making our assistance more effective through greater collaboration with several U.S. government agencies.
The third step is to mobilize financial support. Designing, building, maintaining, and operating infrastructure is expensive. Even if all of the world’s international development funding was directed towards water and sanitation, it would still not be enough to meet developing country needs. In many cases, there is significant capital within developing countries to fund water projects. We need to get these funds working by strengthening local capital markets, providing credit enhancements, and creating pooled or revolving funds that support investments in water, sanitation, equipment, and wastewater management.
The fourth step is to use science and technology to identify innovative solutions. While there is no single technological solution, scientific research and innovation can make a huge impact. Improving the ways we manage water resources, creating better tools to purify water and bring it to people. We need to incentivize the development of technologies that can make a difference at scale and to share U.S. expertise and knowledge with the rest of the world. IAPMO’s domestic and international engagement is doing this kind of work. I hear that India has adopted IAPMO’s Uniform Plumbing Code and that IAPMO is active in an APEC steering committee to standardize energy and building codes. Setting and implementing standards and codes is important. I’ll just mention two examples.
While we recognize the need for long-term solutions, the United States has advocated for household water treatment and safe water storage as a means of immediately reducing the burden of water-related disease. There is a confusing array of technologies out there—everything from simple boiling to chlorination, sand filtration and solar disinfection. A key challenge is finding the right technology for a given location, community, region. Several years ago the State Department and other U.S. agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, began working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and experts both from within government and from NGOs to develop health-based performance specifications and testing guidelines for household water treatment technologies. The goal was to provide a resource for consumers, governments, and donors to identify what approaches worked best—on a region by region basis and to strengthen the capacity of communities to evaluate their own water treatment technologies. The WHO guidelines were published last year and are helping to scale up these approaches across the world.
Standards can also promote good management practices, as you know well. We have worked closely with the WHO to help countries implement a standardized method to protect the quality of drinking water. Called, “Water Safety Plans,” they are a methodology developed by the WHO to conduct health-based vulnerability analyses of the entire water supply system—from the catchment area to the consumer. The goal is to provide a robust framework for evaluating and deciding which investments would yield the greatest health benefits. In other words, could we get people to think how investments in improved watershed management, pipe repair and maintenance, and wastewater treatment would reduce water-related illness? These approaches are helping to reshape how communities and governments address their water challenges.
The fifth step identified by the Secretary was to build and sustain partnerships. We cannot solve this problem on our own. There is a great deal of knowledge and experience that lies within your organizations, the private sector, U.S.-based non-profits, and U.S. technical agencies. We need stronger partnerships with the non-governmental community and a whole-of-government approach.
Last month on World Water Day, Secretary Clinton launched the U.S. Water Partnership. The Partnership is a joint venture between U.S. government agencies, the private sector, and non-profit institutions to mobilize U.S. knowledge, resources and expertise to improve water security—particularly in developing countries. The idea is to mobilize the best and the brightest from the United States, which have something to offer and want to work internationally and to reduce the transaction costs for those in the United States. As Secretary Clinton said at the launch, this partnership is about “being innovative and creative, using the new tools that we’re announcing today to bring people together in our own country, across our own government, and all the constituencies that care about water…” (http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/03/186640.htm)
The Partnership is just getting under way and we are very excited about the opportunities it opens up. For organizations like yours, we hope it will provide a means for connecting the international community with standards, best practices and lessons learned that you’ve developed both here in the United States and internationally. It will provide a platform for you to engage and partner with others to work on integrated solutions to better understand the international water and sanitation challenges. The Partnership can help to identify ways of providing direct support to countries and communities. Sharing knowledge and expertise will build support for U.S. approaches and technologies. We hope that your organizations think seriously about joining the Partnership and partnering with us.
We are also working to bring these messages home in our own practices in the State Department. Through the State Department’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative, we are reducing our environmental footprint, conserving water, and cutting costs. The State Department is committed to reducing its potable water use in its buildings 20% by 2020 and cutting outdoor use of potable water in half. By conserving water at our overseas facilities we are reducing demand on public water systems and local groundwater. We want to set an example of positive water resource practices by increasing water reuse onsite and protecting water quality.
We see great potential in green buildings and emerging technologies globally and in our own embassies. Embassies Nairobi, Karachi, and Ouagadougou have constructed wetlands or wet gardens that use bio-filtration to clarify treated wastewater for reuse in irrigation or safer discharge into the community. Our embassies are also working together through the League of Green Embassies, a global network of 80 diplomatic missions—from Armenia to Zimbabwe—that works to improve energy efficiency, use renewable energy, and conserve water. Your organizations may consider working with us. Green buildings need green plumbers. Your green plumber training program is training the next generation of plumbers for this growing industry.
Secretary Clinton had a wonderful line about water in her 2010 World Water Day speech. She said: “It’s not every day you find an issue where effective diplomacy and development will allow you to save millions of lives, feed the hungry, empower women, advance our national security interests, protect the environment, and demonstrate to billions of people that the United States cares, cares about you and your welfare. Water is that issue." (http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/03/138737.htm)