OOSKAnews Voices: Five Streams of Water, and the US Election


OOSKAnews Voices is a series of guest “opinion columns” on water, written by senior participants in different parts of the international water community. The columns provide a global platform for organizations and individuals to promulgate their views and messages.

In this column, John Oldfield, CEO of Water 2017, looks at the US Presidential election through a global water security lens.

Water 2017 is a one-year philanthropically-funded advocacy effort to encourage the next US President and Congress to prioritize global water security as never before, and to position this issue as a leadership opportunity for the United States and its partners across the globe. Myriad water challenges provide Americans the opportunity to collaborate with countries across the globe to help them solve current problems, and get ahead of future water challenges before they become crises. Across the “Three Ds” of donor countries’ foreign policy - Development, Diplomacy, and Defense - there are meaningful opportunities to engage further with water. How can the US and its partners best strengthen the capacity of countries across the globe to solve their own unique water challenges? What limited, yet leveraged inputs from the donor community would have the most positive, systemic impact?

Prior to Water 2017, John Oldfield led the efforts of WASH Advocates (2011 – 2015) to increase awareness of global water and sanitation challenges and solutions, and to increase the amount and effectiveness of resources devoted to those solutions throughout the developing world. John previously founded two implementing nonprofits in the water sector, and served as Executive Vice President of Water Advocates, an advocacy group in Washington, DC dedicated to increasing financial and political support for worldwide access to safe, affordable and sustainable supplies of drinking water and sanitation. 

With several weeks to go until the US presidential election, many across the US and the globe are thinking ahead to what the outcome of the election could mean for global water security. Regardless of the election results, global water security will clearly continue to grow in importance as the planet faces any number of water-related challenges.

If former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wins on November 8, there is good reason to think that she would soon thereafter elevate and mainstream global water security across the “three Ds” of the US foreign policy architecture: Development, Diplomacy, and Defense.

Hillary Clinton gave a clear indication of how she is prepared to tackle this issue throughout her tenure at the US Department of State, highlighted by her powerful World Water Day “five streams” speech at the National Geographic Society in 2010. Throughout that speech she details the threats that water poses to the US and its allies across the globe, much like the US intelligence community did in its 2012 Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security. Beyond the threat of global water scarcity, she also understands the leadership opportunities that global water challenges provide the U.S. government and private sector. 

Her five priorities from the speech remain vital to success on global water efforts today:

1)   Build capacity at the local, national, and regional levels: The US cannot solve water challenges on its own. Countries and communities themselves must lead in solving their own challenges, and the US government – USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Department of State and others – can best help by expanding others’ abilities to solve water challenges in their own countries and regions. 

2)   Elevate water diplomacy: the US government has an opportunity to work more effectively with bilateral and multilateral stakeholders to get ahead of water-related challenges, particularly at a regional level (shared river basins, aquifers, conflict zones).

3)   Mobilize financial support: The US government has an opportunity to identify and mobilize far more public and private finance for water solutions across the globe through USAID, MCC, and other vehicles.

4)   Invest in and share science and technology: The US government works actively to improve technical solutions to water challenges, and should more widely share those solutions with other countries.

5)   Involve the “whole of US:” Global water challenges merit the involvement of Americans of all stripes: non-profits, corporations, civic groups, faith-based organizations, philanthropies, and academia.  

Both explicit and implicit throughout her 2010 speech is the fact that this cannot be solely a US government effort. Americans from all 50 states need to be involved, as do leaders in each developing country, working to solve their own challenges with their own resources. And it’s not just about water. Hillary Clinton said that “Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It’s also a matter of national security.” She also understands that water contributes heavily to efforts to achieve global food security, empower women, educate the world’s children, and ensure basic public health.

During her tenure at the Department of State, Secretary Clinton took global water seriously, and empowered high-level leaders – including USAID Administrator Raj Shah and Under Secretary of State Maria Otero - to help her tackle these challenges.

The next President of the US will also be able to count on strong, bipartisan support from the US Congress. Republicans and Democrats – including some of the most liberal and some of the most conservative members of the Senate and the House of Representatives - have come together over the past decade to pass two strong laws and significantly increase funding for global water to its current level of $400 million USD per year.

Hillary Clinton clearly understands the threats that water scarcity poses to the US and its allies. She also understands the meaningful leadership opportunity that water challenges provide to the US. She asserted that “water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities of our time. 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 State cares, cares about you and your welfare. Water is that issue.”

Water is also a non-controversial issue: everyone supports safe water across the globe. The challenge for the next US President will be not to convince Americans that this is an important issue, but to convert that consensus into meaningful policies and programs across the globe, led by countries and communities themselves with more effective support from the US and other donor countries. With strong support from the White House and Congress, the US is well positioned to expand its leadership on global water security over the coming years and work with its allies to get ahead of water-related security challenges across the entire foreign policy and national security landscape.