For the 2.5 billion people living without access to sanitation and 748 million without safe drinking water, these challenges mean a life threatened by illness, lost income and malnourishment.
As World Water Day approaches on March 22, I want to take a moment to reflect on an important advance made this year towards improving water and sanitation in developing countries: The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act – which supports more targeted, effective and sustainable investments in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs. It passed unanimously in both houses of Congress and in December 2014 was signed into law by President Obama.
The Act underscores USAID’s commitment to improve and save lives through better WASH services. It also aligns with USAID’s Water and Development Strategy, a focused plan using water programs in developing countries to improve health and fight poverty. Both the Act and the Water Strategy recognize that WASH programs need to be sustainable, designed to have lasting impact over time and after our assistance ends.
Investing in WASH is one of the most effective and efficient choices we can make for global nutrition, child health, education, and empowerment of women. Every gallon of water we make more accessible allows a woman to spend time earning money for her family instead of walking for hours each day to fetch water. Every cup of water we make safer to drink helps another child live past his or her 5th birthday, instead of dying from waterborne illness. Each toilet we build helps another girl spend more time in school when she is menstruating and avoid the risk of sexual assault when she does not have access to safe sanitation facilities.
Already, progress is being made through programs like Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa (SUWASA), a project that strengthens WASH in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Senegal, Zambia, Uganda and Liberia. SUWASA focuses on building financial sustainability of water utilities in each country through activities like regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial financing.
In Asia, the USAID Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IUWASH) program has helped 1.47 million people gain access to safe water supplies and made improved sanitation facilities available to nearly 100,000 more people by supporting local governments. Partnerships have been key to IUWASH’s success. The Government of Indonesia and the private sector have been working together towards getting safe water to those who need it.
Our work to increase access to water and sanitation will reduce enormous suffering. It will protect the dignity of the poorest of the poor. In the 2013 Fiscal Year alone, USAID’s programs around the world helped make sanitation facilities available to nearly 1.3 million people and improved access to drinking water for more than 3.5 million people.
On World Water Day, we are grateful for Congress’s support to scale our programs and change millions more lives. These efforts are delivering more than just water – they’re delivering health, financial stability, relief, dignity and hope.