By: Christian Holmes, USAID’s Global Water Coordinator

During World Water Week 2011, I participated in a “WASH/Environmental Working Group” panel which addressed this critical linkage. This Washington, DC panel was hosted by the Water and Sanitation Program which is a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank. The panel participants consisted of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Conservation International (CI), the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and USAID. In addition to the panel participants, numerous experts in this field participated in the Working Group, including Dr. Flavia Loures from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Alex-Ines Lebec, from Water.org, Dr. Peter McCornick from Duke University’s Nicholas School for Environmental Policy Solutions and my colleagues from USAID, including Dr. Barbara Best and Tim Resch.

In the panel presentation, CRS’s Dennis Warner concentrated on improving environmental and health outcomes through an integrated water resources management approach, targeted on improving the health and well-being of both populations and the watershed. TNC’s Randy Curtis stressed the importance of changing the whole way in which we think about water, noting TNC’s initiative to create water funds which both protect water sheds, and generate employment  and supply of fresh water to the urban and rural poor. CI’s Dr. Luciano Andriamaro stressed the challenge and importance of watershed mapping to secure freshwater supply.

Christian Holmes, USAID’s Global Water Coordinator Photo Credit: USAID

I focused on USAID’s development of a new water strategy which is addressing the importance of taking an integrated approach to water. In so doing, I brainstormed with participants on how we might work together in developing models of integrated freshwater supply and water supply, hygiene, and sanitation (WASH) approaches which could be undertaken in response to major emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes. I invited participants for additional discussion at later date with USAID on the subject, and very much look forward to that.

As a potentially successful example of integration, USAID has been active in Madagascar, launching in late 2010  the Ranon’ala project, which stands for Rural Access to New Opportunities for Health and Water Resource Management” – a  project that recognizes the relationships between healthy people and healthy environments. The project is implemented by Catholic Relief Services with Conservation International and Missouri Botanical Garden as partners (among others).  The project will primarily work to increase access to clean water and sanitation in rural parts of northeastern Madagascar, while also addressing watershed management.  Looking ahead, TNC, CI, and WWF will be putting together case studies demonstrating how fresh water conservation and WASH can go hand-in-hand.  These are important studies, and USAID looks forward to reviewing them.  Increasing the knowledge, evidence base and skill sets related to how best to effect such integration is essential.