“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.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s words — spoken Tuesday at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C. — underscored exactly why improving access to clean fresh water across the globe is so crucial for sustainable development and human well-being. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stress.
The World Bank event was held in honor of World Water Day and attracted at least 200 participants from government agencies, civil society, student groups and the private sector. In her opening remarks, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero stated that over 10 times the number of people in the audience die every day from preventable water-related illnesses.
In addition to the ties between fresh water and human health, another central theme among the event’s speakers was the close relationship between freshwater accessibility, women’s empowerment and economic growth. Clinton stated that 1 billion people walk three hours or more every day to get drinking water — most of them women and girls. With the implementation of projects that dig wells, build latrines and provide other water-related services for communities living in poverty, these women can spend this time going to school and starting small businesses.
Besides Clinton, other speakers included World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Hilton Foundation Chairman Steven Hilton and Coca-Cola Vice President of Environment and Water Resources Jeff Seabright. Hilton and Seabright both announced new corporate commitments for water and sanitation projects; Seabright also publically acknowledged the work of CI, the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy for our work on watershed management. Also participating in the event via satellite from Cape Town, South Africa were His Royal Highness Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange of the Netherlands; the Honorable Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment and water minister, and Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat.
To conclude the event, Clinton and Zoellick signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will encourage close collaboration of the World Bank with the more than 20 U.S. agencies working on water and sanitation issues. In light of this strengthened partnership CI hopes to expand our work with both the World Bank and USAID to better link sanitation and health projects with freshwater ecosystem management; in the event’s morning session, CI-Madagascar’s Luciano Andriamaro presented her team’s work integrating conservation and health projects in eastern Madagascar.
As much of the global media continues to focus on Japan and the Arab world, where crises are continuing to unfold, Clinton’s emphasis on the equal importance of chronic issues like freshwater availability seemed especially poignant.
“We know that in the work we do in diplomacy and development, in finance and outreach, we’re always juggling the urgent and the important. And oftentimes, the urgent can swallow up everything else. Well, we need to keep our eye on the long-term and the important as well. We know that for hundreds of millions of people today, water represents a deadly threat. And the risks that they face in finding water, hauling it, drinking it, cooking and bathing with it, add up to the defining challenge of their lives. There is nothing more urgent and important than that.”