Chris Holmes serves as USAID’s Global Water Coordinator.

In late May, when USAID launched its first global water strategy, Administrator Shah, Democrats and Republicans alike agreed on the message: solving the water and sanitation crises is critical. The goal of the USAID Water and Development Strategy is to save lives and improve development in a world where practically 800 million people are without adequate water and 2.5 billion people are without access to adequate sanitation. To achieve its goal, the strategy sets out two overarching strategic objectives: improve global health and strengthen global food security through USAID-supported water programs.

Partnering with faith-based and community organizations—as well as other stakeholders – is critical to meeting these objectives. It is through partnerships that we combine the resources, expertise and wisdom necessary to meet the needs of literally billions of people.

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call hosted by Ms. Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Participants on the call included WASH Advocates, Blood: Water Mission, the Millennium Water Alliance, EROD, PATH, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, World Vision, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Episcopal Relief and Development, Catholic Relief Services, Engineering Ministries International and Lifewater International.  During our call, we covered a wide range of activities—partnerships— to save and improve lives.  One participant noted that it was exciting to see the strategy’s emphasis on women, in particular engaging women in WASH programming and leadership as well as focusing the strategy on countries and regions where we can have greatest impact.  Others on the call addressed such matters as watershed management, evaluation, and the impact on NGOs of channeling development resources through national governments.

Regarding country focus, we discussed how the strategy advances activities consistent with the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 such as establishing criteria to designate high-priority countries for increased investments to support access to safe water and sanitation. We are designing criteria that designate which countries will receive water and sanitation funding. The criteria are based on a combination of factors, such as high childhood mortality rates due to diarrhea, and the capacity of governments to manage and sustain effective programs. Ethiopia is an example of a country that could meet the criteria. It has the requisite infrastructure, governance and institutional experience for USAID water programs that have a transformative impact.

Turning to engaging women in our water programs, we addressed the USAID-supported Somalia School Environment and Education Development Program (SEEDS) which plays an important role in providing water, sanitation and privacy needed to help keep young women in schools, as well as the Afghanistan Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation Project (SWSS) where USAID is building the capacity of the Afghan government and local communities to provide potable water and sanitation facilities and to improve hygiene behavior. An important component of this program is to engage women in the delivery of training.

We also talked about the importance of setting and meeting specific targets. The strategy sets targets for a minimum number of people to be reached over five years: 10 million with sustainable water services and 6 million with sustainable sanitation services. The strategy emphasizes the need for increased investments and expanded attention to sanitation to translate into broader health and economic benefits. In Ethiopia, the USAID- supported Hygiene Improvement program (PDF) facilitated the implementation of the Government’s National Hygiene and Sanitation strategy. More than 5.8 million people in the Amhara region have been reached by hygiene and sanitation promotion activities, and an estimated 2.8 million people have stopped the practice of open defecation and now use a basic pit latrine.

In order to meet our objectives, the strategy relies on partnerships, innovation, and sustainable approaches. An example of USAID’s focus on innovation in the WASH sector is the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV). Through WASH for Life, our partnership with the Gates Foundation, DIV is testing and scaling promising, cost-effective solutions in water, sanitation, and hygiene. DIV recently announced its biggest award yet to the Dispensers for Safe Water program. This approach seeks to scale safe drinking water to more than 5 million, including 1.6 million children, over the next three years. Ensuring long-term sustainability of water and sanitation infrastructure interventions is a central component of the strategy.

Clearly, faith-based and community organizations and our other partners play such a critical role in meeting the needs of millions of people. As was the case in our conference call , we learn a great deal from our partners. In this regard, I would also like to thank USAID’s Office of Faith Based Community Initiatives for its role in linking faith-based and community organizations with USAID’s global water related efforts.