US and World Bank Sign Global Water Collaboration Agreement

In honor of World Water Day on March 22nd, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick signed a memorandum to facilitate collaboration on global water issues. Also in attendance were Jeff Seabright of the Environment and Water Resources branch of Coca-Cola, and Steve Hilton of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The agreement was developed to address numerous water distribution and sanitation issues which are expected to worsen as the population grows. In light of existing and predicted water shortages around the world, the US and The World Bank outlined a stratagem of cooperation to enhance and stimulate action.

Their target is to mitigate water scarcity due to climate change, drought, flooding, poverty and depletion of natural water resources. Clinton said of the response, “The water crisis is a health crisis, it’s a farming crisis, it’s an economic crisis, it’s a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis. And therefore, we must have an equally comprehensive response.”

The delegates plan to utilize any available technologies, including NASA’s remote sensing technologies, to resolve instances of water scarcity. The aid of 19 other US government agencies is also enlisted in the project. The World Bank plans to assimilate the work and technology of these agencies into their current water projects, which distribute $5 billion a year in water related assistance to developing nations.

Technology will support water and weather forecasting which will help communities prepare for droughts, floods, and other weather conditions which might impact the water supply. They will also facilitate hygiene, water access, and water distribution projects while rehabilitating watersheds and wetlands. Improved irrigation is another goal in many regions, as well as increased political and social cooperation in an between nations. According to the US policy website, both parties also hope to pool their financial assets to invest in water and sanitation.

The US is already one of the leading donors to foreign development, and between 2005 and 2009 the US provided $3.4 billion in water-related foreign aid. The US Agency for International Development, or USAID, is a primary stake holder in these endeavors. Currently, USAID has water based projects underway in Indonesia, India, Haiti, Cambodia, and numerous other nations. Another foreign affairs agency, the US Millenium Challenge Corporation, has begun a $275 million operation in Jordan to improve water access and sanitation.

Coca-Cola representative Jeff Seabright also pledged $6 million to the water shortage in Africa. The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation aims specifically enable women in water scarce regions with a program called RAIN: Water for Africa. Many African women in water stressed regions spend a large portion of the day collecting water for cooking and drinking. Rather than attending school, many girls accompany their mothers on the walk to collect water each day. The chore frequently prevents female education and perpetuates poverty, a matter which Coca-Cola is focusing their efforts on.

Steven Hilton also dedicated $50 million to water-related improvements at the commemoration. 

Zoellick stressed the urgency of ensuring a water secure future for people around the world, an issue which The World Bank has grappled with numerous times before. Poverty, disease, and high infant mortality are each linked to problems of water sanitation. “Look at almost any poverty issue- you will find water. A lack of safe water and adequate sanitation is the world’s single largest cause of illness, responsible for two million deaths a year. That’s four people every minute- most of them children,” he explained.

As the population is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050, concern over water distribution and sanitation will need to be met in a swift and productive manner. Donal Steinberg of USAID noted, “Our presence here today reflects a basic truth in the development challenges we face: no single government, international institution, civil society group, or private corporation has a monopoly on good ideas, dedicated commitment, or ground truth,” a guiding principle of the World Water Day commemoration.

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