U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of the U.S. Water Partnership (USWP), a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative intended to “unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources, and mobilize those assets to address water challenges around the globe, especially in the developing world.”
“Our domestic experiences with water and our technical expertise are valued around the world. And as countries become more water stressed or nations face water-related crises, they are increasingly turning to the United States for assistance. We hear this all the time at embassies everywhere. Local leaders meet with our ambassadors and ask, ‘What did you do in the United States? How did you do it? Can you help us?’” Clinton said in her World Water Day address at the State Department on March 22, 2012.
“Today we are launching a new public-private partnership to help answer that call for leadership and to expand the impact of America’s work on water. The U.S. Water Partnership exemplifies the unity of effort and expertise we will need to address these challenges over the coming years, and it advances our work in three critical ways,” she said.
The 34 partnership members are drawn from the government, private sector, civil society, non-governmental organizations, the philanthropic community and academia.
“Breaking down silos, barriers, obstacles has been one of my goals as Secretary of State, within our own government, with multilateral institutions, and between and among governments. Bringing people with varied water experience and expertise together will also force us to look for system-wide solutions,” Clinton said.
For example, partnership member Coca-Cola might have the best data on water supplies, which could be combined with the Army Corps of Engineers’ expertise in building water delivery systems and the Nature Conservancy’s advanced knowledge of how to protect ecosystems to ensure sustainable clean water supply.
“Now, you can’t work on water as a health concern independently from water as an agricultural concern, and water that is needed for agriculture may also be water that is needed for energy production. So we need to be looking for interventions that work on multiple levels simultaneously and help us focus on systemic responses,” Clinton added.
The partnership’s “built-in flexibility,” will also allow it to create new projects and partnerships as needed with or with out the State Department.
Critically, the partnership will work to address global water challenges by thinking locally, she said. To that end, the new U.S. Water Web Portal will provide a “single entry point to our data, best practices, and training to help empower people taking on these problems in their own communities.”
“In brief, we believe this will help map out our route to a more water secure world: a world where no one dies from water-related diseases; where water does not impede social or economic development; and where no war is ever fought over water.”
Clinton cited the recent United Nations Children’s Fund/World Health Organization report, released in mid-March, which claims the world is on track to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target to halve the number of people without access to an improved water source.
“There aren’t many of the MDGs that we’ve actually achieved, so the fact that we’ve achieved this one is, I think, not only good in and of itself, but should serve as a spur on others as well. We know it not only translates into better lives, but it proves the international community, when focused and working together, can actually achieve goals that are set.”
However, there remains much to do, she said: “At this rate, nearly 700 million people will lack access to safe drinking water in 2015.”
The UNICEF/WHO report was not as optimistic about the MDG targets on sanitation, however.
Speaking to reporters after Clinton’s address, Aaron Salzberg, Special Coordinator for Water Resources at the U.S. Department of State, acknowledged that sanitation needed to be a “growing focus for us, and we need to double our efforts.”
Dr. Jamie Bartram, Director of the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill added that the U.S. Water Partnership’s founding members had agreed that sanitation had to be “embedded across the board.”
Bartram pointed out that UN’s figures on drinking water access may not be the good news they first appeared.
The MDG statistics are calculated based on access to an improved water source, which may or may not actually be “safe.”
But a report published by the UNC Water Institute on March 14 found when progress is calculated based on access to a safe (not just improved) water source, the world is not on track after all (See Fig. 1).