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Archives for Water and Sanitation

Water Projects as part of the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program (Part 4)

Note: This is the fourth post in a 4-part series. Read part onepart two and part three.

USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program promotes cooperation between the Arab and Israeli scientific communities through joint research projects addressing common development problems. The program was established in 1981 to facilitate research cooperation between Egyptian and Israeli scientists, and was subsequently expanded to include Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and the West Bank and Gaza.

Today, active projects involve more than 400 Arab and Israeli scientists, engineers, students and technicians at 50 institutions in seven Middle Eastern countries.  New project proposals which seek out sustainable solutions to regional development challenges are accepted every year. Working together, these scientists have led innovation in agriculture, environment, water resources and health.

A Moroccan farmer makes use of a USAID SMS advisory service to plan irrigation for his crops. Photo credit: USAID

Given the region’s water shortages and the regional nature of water challenges, the water sector is an important component of MERC’s research portfolio.  Because agriculture consumes a large amount of the region’s freshwater resources, MERC projects seek to increase the use of treated wastewater as appropriate in agriculture, minimize water demand in existing crops, and identify new crop varieties that are resistant to drought and salinity.

For example, MERC programs explore the use of wetlands and membrane-based filters for the effective and efficient re-use of reclaimed water in agriculture. Its programs model crops’ abilities to make use of low-quality water, seek the optimal amount of water plants need, and develop protocols for the safe and effective use of reclaimed water. They identify and optimize high-value traditional and specialty crops suitable to arid climates and saline soils, such as potato varieties adapted to saline soils and water, and virus-resistant tomato lines.

As do USAID’s other water projects around the region, MERC’s water portfolio makes use of cutting-edge science, technology and innovation in improving the impact and sustainability of its initiatives.  One new project, for example, brings together Israeli and Palestinian scientists to look at the interaction between coastal aquifers and the Mediterranean under changing conditions. The scientists are developing empirical, quantitative estimates of seawater intrusion and freshwater outflow along the coast in and near Gaza. They will subsequently provide policy makers with recommendations about how best to manage these aquifers.

The re-use of wastewater is a growing practice in the region. Another MERC project studies the hormonal health hazards related to this re-use, the effectiveness of new wastewater treatment plants in removing hormonal pollutants, and the cost-effectiveness of new treatment alternatives. Project leader Alon Tal from Ben-Gurion University, who works with Israeli and Palestinian scientists from Bethlehem University and other groups to implement the project, commented, “I think this is going to take to the next level what we know about streams.”

Today, at a time of rapid change in the Arab world, MERC continues to bring together Arab and Israeli scientists and students to create and share solutions to regional development challenges like water while promoting a peaceful exchange between neighbors.

Read other blog posts in this series:

Greener Pastures in Crimea’s Future

For those of us who have always had it, access to clean water is something that is all too easy to take for granted. We turn on the tap, cook and bathe, and water our lawns and gardens, without ever thinking of the complexities that bring us our clean water.  Others must constantly think about clean water because they have never had access to piped-in clean water in their homes, and have always made do by carrying water from the local well.

In the former Soviet Union, some communities once had access to clean water, but are now suffering the effects of crumbling infrastructure and increasing water demands. Nowhere is this more true than in the small communities scattered across Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

USAID will utilize the existing Soviet-era pump facility (background) in Pervimaysky to irrigate farm fields for a rural community of 300 persons. Photo credit: Jason Gilpin, USAID

Crimea is an attractive region, with a wide variety of ecosystems, rainfall, sunshine, land use and people. For two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived in Sevastopol, a city located on the peninsula’s south-western tip, and often traveled throught small villages and towns in Crimea where Ukrainian NGO colleagues and other volunteers were based. I saw firsthand how many people in rural Crimea go days or even weeks without water, particularly in summer. In many villages, the public water system operates for one or two hours a day only on a few days a week. Even quick showers are a luxury and residents use the brief time the water system is functioning to quickly fill up as many empty plastic containers as possible in order to live through the dry period. Bottled water is expensive for the average Crimean villager, whose monthly income rarely exceeds $200. Crimea is also growing as a tourism destination, further burdening  the overwhelmed public water system during the summer season.

The problem with poor water availability isn’t caused by a lack of water in the region. While Crimea is a fairly dry place, averaging just over 15 inches of precipitation annually, there are ample sources of underground  water and Dnipro river tributary water provided by aqueducts from the north. The challenge is transporting enough water from aquifers and aqueducts to households in order to satisfy seasonal demand during the periods of increased use. This is particularly true in spring and summer when people use this water to irrigate backyard cash crops, which are critical to supplementing rural residents’ annual income.

The USAID Project “Partnership for Sustainable Water Supply for Agriculture Development in Crimea (SWaSAD)” launched in July 2012 by our Ukrainian partner, Agrarian Markets Development Institute, is successfully demonstrating that with transparent planning, modest investment and strong community support, infrastructure improvements can be made that will bring reliable water service to residents in small communities in Crimea. The Project includes demonstration projects in three districts in Crimea: Saki, Pervimaysky and Razdolnensky.

I joined my colleagues from USAID in late February in visiting the communities selected for partnership on this project. In Saki, we heard from the project’s major stakeholders. A local farmer remarked that this project was “very important” in improving crop yields and local income, and that locals were “enthusiastic” about the prospect of reliable water in their communities.

In many ways, the objectives are simple: most of the project sites involve simply connecting the existing water sources, such as the water in a canal with homes along the streets in the villages, using simple irrigation pipes and pumps, so that people can irrigate their backyard cash crops with non-potable canal water without burdening the community’s drinking water system.

One of the project sites plans a broader-based agricultural application on large, communally-owned plots of land. The site we visited in Pervimaysky would restore the function of Soviet-era water infrastructure to irrigate fields farmed by 30 families. This, in turn, would support 300 beneficiaries in the nearby village, providing much-needed employment opportunities and increased economic activity for local businesses. The difference between an irrigated field and a non-irrigated field was fairly obvious and pretty stark — one field a bright green, the other a dull brown.

As tourism continues to develop in Crimea, water demands will continue to grow.  It is economically critical that the region develops a plan to supply reliable potable water to the tourist centers, while also allowing farmers to irrigate their crops, helping to fulfill Ukraine’s promise as the breadbasket of Europe.

What makes this project particularly unique is that USAID/Ukraine is implementing it with the support of the Development Grants Program, which is designed specifically to increase the capacity of locally-managed and operated organizations, thereby increasing local knowledge to sustain the results of USAID-funded initiatives after grant completion. As part of this initiative, our local implementing partner is improving its internal controls and management processes, and developing its human resources so that it can independently achieve results from similar activities.

In the end, we are not only helping Crimea increase its water security and improve the quality of life of local residents, we are also improving the ability of local NGOs to use their own skills and resources to continue to develop this critical region of Ukraine.

Water and International Cooperation

Christian Holmes serves as USAID’s Global Water Coordinator. Photo credit: USAID

As we celebrate World Water Day, it is important to consider this: only if we cooperate effectively, can we sustain the supplies of quality water necessary for human life.

The United Nations has set 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. USAID addresses the global challenges of water in close cooperation with non-governmental and civil society organizations that undertake the critical frontline responsibility of developing and implementing water programs. Our partners are advocacy groups that bring both knowledge and passion to the challenge, governments that are dedicated to providing a better life for their citizens, and communities that best understand the challenges and solutions. We have reached out to universities that are creating innovative solutions, to the private sector that can build a new global economy while supporting sustainable development, and to international development and financial institutions that provide essential program development, implementation and financial support.

USAID supports water cooperation at the local, national and regional level. Over last 10 years, we have provided some 50 million people with water and sanitation services.

In Somalia, the School Environment and Education Development for Somalia (SEEDS) provides access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities on school grounds, promotes hygiene education and trains teachers and government officials. The results thus far: 359 latrines constructed and another 189 rehabilitated in 114 schools; 213 hand-washing facilities installed in 90 schools and five water points completed. All told more than 150,000 people in these communities benefited, and student enrollment increased by more than 32,000. It’s important to note that of those students, 12,666 were girls whose parents would only allow them to attend school with the kind of private, girls-only latrines built as part of this project.

In Nepal, where 66 percent of households experience food shortages each year, USAID’s Nepal Economic Agriculture and Trade (NEAT) program is helping cut input costs and boost crop productivity by installing and rehabilitating irrigation systems and training local technicians to maintain them. That, along with parallel efforts that are part of this project, is expected to directly benefit over 300,000 Nepalese and indirectly impact millions in the country by improving the business environment, facilitating trade flows and strengthening fiscal policy.

We support a wide range of development activities to promote Trans boundary water cooperation. USAID and the University of Colorado Boulder are partnering to assess snow and glacier contributions to water resources originating in the high mountains of Asia that straddle ten countries.  This assessment will be crucial in helping to forecast the future availability and vulnerability of water resources in the region, beginning with accurate assessments of the distinct, separate contributions to river discharge from melting glacier ice and seasonal snow.

In the Asia-Pacific region, USAID has supported the efforts of WaterLinks to build the capacity of Asia’s urban water sector. WaterLinks paired water operators from Asia countries to share best practices to meet the demand for water and sanitation and address related issues like wastewater management and climate change resilience. WaterLinks facilitated more than 60 water operator partnerships, resulting in more than one million people gained improved access to safe water supply and sanitation services.

Also in this region, USAID supports the Mekong River Commission and the riparian countries to plan the sustainable development of water resources in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB), where 60 million people live and 80 percent of them rely directly on the Mekong river system for their food and livelihoods:  USAID supports projects that seek to improve sediment flows and management; enhance scenario planning approaches and promote sustainable fisheries management

In Africa, to help meet these varied water demands across the Mara River Basin; in 2005  USAID provided funding to launch the Trans boundary Water for Biodiversity and Human Health in the Mara River Basin TWB-MRB project. The project has helped local communities develop new water services, refurbish nonfunctioning water systems, and improve sanitation services.

We also support organizations that will build global partnerships. Last year, USAID joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership which brings together governments, donors, civil society organizations, and development partners to achieve sustainable sanitation and drinking water.

As a member of The US Water Partnership (USWP), USAID is part of a national effort to unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources, and mobilize those assets to address water challenges around the globe, especially in the developing world. This week, the USWP recognized thirteen new members, including think tanks, universities, government agencies and for-profit groups willing and ready to join a growing number in this country concerned about global water issues.

While there are multiple ways to cooperate, a constant supply of quality water is the fundamental life force that drives us to work together to safeguard this precious resource.

USAID in the Middle East: Using Data to Improve Regional Water Management (Part 1)

Note: This is the first post in a 4-part series. Read part two,  part three and part four.

Few places are drier than the Middle East and North Africa. Host to 5 percent of the world’s population, the region has only 1 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. Population growth and increasing demands for food, housing and jobs place extreme pressures on water resources, raising the potential for conflict within and between countries. Climate change could make a challenging situation worse.

The first step for effective water decision-making is data – understanding the location, availability and quality of water resources. To be effective, water management decisions need to be grounded in the best information available. However, political and economic constraints often mean that decisions affecting water use in the region rely upon outdated or inaccurate information.

Making use of NASA satellite data, USAID helps the region’s water managers understand and plan for current and future water needs. This land cover map of northern Tunisia was derived using USAID supported remote sensing and modeling tools. Photo Credit: International Center for Biosaline Agriculture

USAID is working to put accurate data – and the know-how to interpret them – into the hands of the region’s water decision-makers. Since many in the region access shared water resources we are also promoting international cooperation and data sharing toward effective regional water management. Our Middle East Regional Cooperation program (MERC), for example, brings together teams of Arab and Israeli scientists to address common development problems.

This series profiles several initiatives focused on data, technology, cooperation and decision-making. Last year’s World Water Day edition of Global Waters portrayed others.

USAID’s work around the region has helped to improve water and wastewater services available to the region’s citizens, lessen the potential for water-related conflicts, encourage cooperation and increase the region’s ability to adapt to climate change and maintain food security. Water plays a central role in every country’s development. Its availability and quality can hinder or accelerate socio-economic progress. As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in her 2012 World Water Day speech, “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.”

Effective water decisions require accurate data. Using science and technology to improve water decision-making, USAID is helping the region to overcome scarcity, and ensure that water serves as a catalyst for sustainable development.

Regional: In Jordan and Elsewhere

Effective water management requires a regional approach. Water does not necessarily abide by the man-made lines drawn across the sand marking today’s international borders. Rather, it flows – above and below ground – along lines understood by geographers, not those drawn by cartographers. Therefore a transboundary approach, informed by accurate water resources data and decision-making tools, is essential. USAID has taken the lead in making available U.S. satellite data and remote sensing capabilities to key regional water decision-makers.

Joining forces with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the World Bank, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), and national agencies in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, USAID has developed a suite of advanced land surface models to provide regional scale hydrological data relevant to water resource planning and management. Satellite data is verified by local government measurements and fed into analytical models to turn raw data into decision-support tools.

“The overarching goal of these projects is to improve the data available to researchers and decision makers and help foster a culture of data-informed water resources policy and management,” said Mark Peters, USAID’s Regional Water Advisor.  “USAID is playing an important role in making the most of increasingly scarce regional water resources around the Middle East. Our programs demonstrate the importance of science and technology in water resources decision-making, using data and decision-support tools to make optimal use of water resources and mitigate against water-related conflict.”

For example, in Jordan, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, USAID is working closely with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) to ground-truth NASA satellite data. The detailed satellite information on groundwater levels and vegetative cover are used in conjunction with population statistics and measures of water levels in wells throughout Jordan to enable NASA and USAID scientists to accurately track water levels in aquifers throughout the country. Making use of this resource, USAID and the MWI are able to improve water resource planning efforts, and avoid the over-depletion of key aquifers.

Models indicate that certain aquifers are at risk of over-depletion, and as a result USAID and MWI have redoubled efforts to reduce agricultural water use in these areas. Such findings are reinforced by cooperation between Jordanian scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey evaluating groundwater level and salinity trends around the country. Data produced as a result of this cooperation help prioritize locations for groundwater management, provide a baseline for evaluating impacts of the reduction of over-pumping, and increase public awareness of groundwater trends. “There is severe over extraction of the highlands aquifers,” argues MWI Secretary-General Basem Telfah. “With new information coming from both our well and satellite monitoring systems, it is very clear that Jordanians have to act quickly to change agricultural practices.”

Sound water management begins with good data provision. Groundwater resources are under increasing pressure in the MENA region, and declining levels in many aquifers highlight the need for careful future management. Given the growing and diverse needs for water, decision-makers need to understand current resource limits and the impacts of future policies as they balance competing demands. The United States is a leader in using satellite data and remote sensing technologies to inform water decision-making. We are making available these powerful tools around the arid Middle East as the countries of the region chart their own hydraulic future.

Read other blog posts in this series:


Photo of the Week: Celebrating World Water Day

In Niger, a nine year old girl with a brother or sister on her back and about 25 pounds of water on her head. She just walked 3.2 miles one way to fetch this dirty water. She does this three times a day — everyday. Photo Credit: Gil Garcetti

Fields of Hope in Burkina Faso

As I rode through the dry, dusty countryside of Burkina Faso in late February, I began to wonder how any plant could thrive in the constant heat, and with seemingly little water. Considering the 2012 food crisis, when late rains led to poor harvests and resulted in widespread food insecurity across the Sahel, I wondered how farmers were able to make this dry, hard land produce anything.

With only four months of rain a year – on average 20-35 inches total – farmers are often dependent on this little rain to produce enough food to feed their families and earn enough income to purchase food in the dry season. It’s a delicate balance – too little rain, and their crops fail; too much rain, and their crops fail.

The importance of water particularly becomes stark when you visit communities that lack a good water source. Families have little to eat because they can’t grow enough due to lack of water; children are in poor health because the water source is not sanitary.

Women in Kofogou repairing a dike. Photo credit: USAID

Yet across eastern Burkina Faso, in areas where USAID’s food assistance programs have been working for the last 10 years, green fields are bringing hope to thousands of families, even during the dry season.

Where land was previously infertile or unproductive, land rehabilitation, particularly in the lowlands, has meant farmers are now able to grow high value crops such as rice during the regular harvest season. This provides much needed food and income, especially in comparison with the small yields from cowpeas, sesame, millet and sorghum grown in small household plots. During the dry season, many families are even able to grow onions, tomatoes, green beans, and other crops on these rejuvenated lands to bring in extra income to support their families.

Water was key to these successes. In every community we visited, families identified water as the main constraint to food security. But where USAID partners Catholic Relief Services (CRS), ACDI/VOCA and Africare were able to create or improve water sources, or teach farmers how to capture rain during the rainy season, communities were thriving.

In the hamlet of Kofogou, one woman spoke to us about how for the first time she was able to cultivate rice herself, instead of buying rice, because she now had a plot on the lowland she and other community members redeveloped through Food for Work. Food for Work is work done by community members in exchange for food. On her 0.15 hectares of lowland she now produces ten 75-KG sacks of rice, providing food for her family and a source of income when she sells some of the rice she has parboiled.

I heard similar stories throughout my visit to Burkina Faso. All communities that have been successful identified water access and lowlands development as keys to their success. In Wattigué, the rice producers group “Teeltaaba”, or “Support Each Other”, was organized last year for the 37 farmers working on the newly redeveloped lowlands. In its first year of production on the lowlands – before the 2012 food crisis – the producers group harvested over 15 tons rice. The group sold a portion of this to traders in the larger towns of Kaya and Ouagadougou, rather than individually as small batches to traders in nearby Tougouri as they had in the past. This resulted in better prices. The group’s 2012 sale of rice netted $1,800 income for the 37 farmers. This doesn’t even count the additional tons sold to local women for parboiling and rice collected from each farmer in the community to help feed 68 kids for 3-4 months at the school canteen. Read more on Wattigué.

Rassomde water irrigation system which is shown providing water to their fields of onion and tomato. Photo credit: USAID

Rassomdé community most struck me. Located in Gourcy province northwest of Ouagadougou, Africare had worked in Rassomdé until 2010, at which time their development food assistance program closed. In traveling to Rassomdé, we hoped to see communities faring better than others which weathered the 2012 food crisis, as a result of Africare’s previous assistance. We were not disappointed.

As we drove up to their fields, we saw 30 hectares of green – onions and tomatoes grew everywhere. Their proximity to a reservoir helped. With Africare’s assistance, communities developed these 30 hectares of land, making multiple canals to bring water from the reservoir to the fields. Today, three years after Africare’s departure, producers can pay their expenses and still earn a net income of $617 per household from vegetable gardening in the off-season. Read more on Rassomdé.

While significant challenges remain because of a lack of water or lack of access to water, what we saw demonstrated to me that lasting positive changes are possible, through helping farmers and their communities. I am encouraged that these efforts in Burkina Faso are similar to what’s being done across the Sahel in USAID’s development food assistance programs. These changes are exactly what will lift communities out of a cycle of crisis and lay the foundation for their continued growth.

8 Things Our Future Military Leaders Need to Know About Water Management

Last year the National Intelligence Council released its first-ever Global Water Security Intelligence Community Assessment (PDF). The report noted that during the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability and state failure. Additionally, between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources.

At USAID, we support a wide variety of water programs that foster economic development throughout the developing world. These programs help mitigate the prospect of conflict and play an important role in both meeting emergency relief needs and bringing long-term stability to people in areas afflicted by conflict.

One day, our future military leaders will be planning and implementing peace-keeping operations, and it is important for them to know how the range of water management approaches implemented by USAID can help foster stability, resilience and economic growth.

I was thus pleased to receive an invitation from Col. Wiley Thompson, the head of the United States Military Academy Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, to deliver a lecture in mid-December on water to about 140 West Point cadets. As these men and women will one day be leading our country, I was honored to impart lessons about how water management may help strengthen the cadets’ capacity to lead.

Chris Holmes with West Point cadets following the lecture on water management. Photo credit: USAID

While my core message to the cadets was this –Water management is key to stability, to improving health, to producing food and energy, to adapting to climate change – there are eight key lessons that I believe would help these cadets as they continue their educations.

1. USAID and the military can and must form effective partnerships.

The Army and USAID have partnered on wide range of water activities, such as: increasing the energy output of the Kajaki dam in Afghanistan, restoring carp fisheries in Iraq, and providing relief to flood and earthquake victims in Pakistan. Such partnering is supported by the USAID- DOD Civilian Military Cooperation policy (PDF). Both USAID and the military bring differing but complimentary technical expertise. In addition, the military provides the logistics support and security to support USAID efforts in the field. This collaboration is essential, especially in providing security in areas prone to conflict and in providing emergency humanitarian assistance requiring the transport of medical supplies and relief personnel.

2. Women leaders must play a vital role in leading water programs.

In Afghanistan, the USAID Sustainable Water Supply Sanitation and Hygiene program supports the development of women leaders, including Female Health Action groups. Women leaders play an essential role in leading community-based water organizations and in resolving disputes over water.

3. Policy Makers must take an integrated approach, linking sectors, programs and policies.

The objective of USAID’s recently initiated Rwanda Integrated Water Security Program is to improve the sustainable management of water quantity and quality to positively impact human health, food security, and resilience to climate change for vulnerable populations in targeted catchments. This integrated water resource management project is intended to serve as a model for USAID water projects.

4. Remote sensing and communications technologies change the game.

In East Africa, The USAID Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) is identifying where climate change is actually occurring, analyzing climate change data in patterns over the last 30 to 50 years. This enables USAID and its developing country partners to look in to the future and take steps to adapt to climate change.

The Indonesia WATER SMS project will apply new data-collection tools and sharing methodologies through Short Messaging Services (SMS) and web mapping to increase civic participation to improve water services. Residents, using hand phones and email, can rapidly report chronic and acute conditions.

5. Think across the border.

More than 300 water bodies are shared by two or more countries. Tanzania and Kenya border the Mara river. The USAID Transboundary Water for Biodiversity and Human Health project in the Mara River Basin (TWB-MRB) has helped local communities to develop new water services, refurbish nonfunctioning water systems, and improve sanitation services. There has also been support for setting up water user associations and village savings and loan groups, emphasizing the participation and empowerment of women and the long-term sustainability of the new organizations. Major conflicts can arise over water resources, grazing lands and territory; loss of assets, livestock, hundreds of people killed and  thousands displaced. This calls early focus on  a peace building process, e.g., strengthening Institutions for peace and development

6. It’s not just high tech.

Meeting complex economic development needs requires combining traditional low-tech approaches to water management, such as sand-dam water catchments, with sophisticated high-tech approaches. As part of the climate adaptation strategy in Mali, informed by data from the high-tech FEWSNET, USAID also supports programs that reintroduce traditional soil conservation and management programs to increase food production, a tried and true low-tech approach to enhanced productivity that is being practiced of millions of acres. Drilling rigs for bore holes can easily be counterproductive if not sited in close collaboration with all stakeholder groups in a wider landscape, and linked to local village management capacity.

7. We must provide sustainable solutions to enhance the resilience of communities.

USAID and other donors, through the Productive Safety Net Program, identified a population of 8 million people in Ethiopia particularly vulnerable to climate change. Building large-scale water irrigation and supply systems helped provide sustainable, lasting assistance to enable these communities to weather the 2010/2011 East African droughts.

8. We can’t do it alone.

In Ethiopia, the USAID-funded Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Transformation for Enhanced Resilience (WATER) program works closely with regional and community governments to develop access to clean, safe and sustainable water sources.


When I arrived at West Point, I was awed by the history and physical geography of the place, the Academy high on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River, gray granitic slabs of stone emerging from the hills, blending into the school’s impressive stone architecture. The geology, the architecture, the teachers, the students all conveyed one word: strength. In reflecting on my interactions with West Point faculty and students, I came away encouraged and impressed by their understanding of the “strength” of effective water management, how it links both the respective resources and missions of  the military and USAID to foster stability and economic development.

Partnering for Development in Water

To meet the water, sanitation and food needs of the global community, we face huge constraints. Public and private funds for development are limited. Significant water resources are being depleted at a rapid pace. Arable land occupies a relatively small portion of our planet. Conflict and natural disasters cause immense suffering and impede the progress of development, turning back the clock. Yet, in one area we do not face constraints. That is in our capacity to empathize, to set a purpose for our lives that responds to the needs of others, and to realize that purpose by creating and implementing solutions whose scale and impact is potentially immense.

Chris Holmes speaks to the water community of Colorado. Photo Credit: USAID.

During my recent trip to Colorado, I met with several groups that embody this capacity – creative, compassionate and enthusiastic academics and Rotarians working to research, innovate and implement new solutions to some of the development challenges we face today. Many of these challenges focus on, or relate to, water. Water is vital to sustaining life, essential for the sustainable production of crops and critical to many manufacturing and industrial processes. Water availability, or lack thereof, is an issue familiar to Coloradans, and their state faces many of the same challenges that countries around the world face: drought, growing populations, and rising water needs of multiple users. The water community of Colorado has expertise not only on domestic water issues, but also on global issues such as water scarcity, treatment and sanitation.

I had the opportunity to meet with some of the members of this community, including students and faculty from University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and Regis University, and Rotarians from the cities of Denver and Evergreen. In my discussions with these groups, I learned about their current development activities, including partnerships with USAID, and shared some of the approaches USAID is currently employing, including open source based development, partnerships and finance, science and technology, integrated programming, resilience and scale.

Universities and groups like Rotary are key partners in reaching USAID’s development goals. Both groups are familiar with the type of interdisciplinary thinking that USAID is using in our effort to establish linkages between sectors, such as water, agriculture and energy in order to bring about new solutions. Developing and implementing effective linkages will be key to USAID’s ability to meet global water and related food and health needs. Universities make a huge difference in educating the present and future generation of leaders who will find it critical to use these approaches and tools to save and improve lives. My visit left me feeling optimistic and excited about the future of global development, and I look forward to our continuing partnerships with universities and Rotary groups.

A Lasting Impact on Food Security

I recently traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to visit food assistance programs implemented by USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. My first impression of the Congo was the same feeling I had in Uganda when visiting projects there last year – why in countries so lush and ripe for agriculture were people so food insecure? Food insecurity is a complex issue, and for the DRC it includes key issues such as low productivity, lack of market access and infrastructure, ongoing conflict and poor nutrition practices.

As a country struggling to pull itself out of conflict, the DRC is a challenging environment to work in. Never mind the logistical challenges for our partners and staff: little infrastructure in program areas; communities cut off by rains, conflict or other factors at certain times of year; and monitoring difficulties due to USAID staff being based on the opposite side of the country from the projects.

Despite these challenges, I was amazed at the ability of USAID’s partners to have as much positive impact as they have had on food security. This was particularly apparent in the visits where development assistance had ended the previous year, but the lasting impact of programs was still very visible.

I visited two communities previously supported by Food for the Hungry (FH) – Kamalenge and Kateba – which continue to benefit from initiatives started under FH’s previous program.

In Kamalenge, the water management committee responsibly manages the use of water from the community water pump installed by FH, by creating a fee-based system for maintenance. Under this system, households pay 100 francs a month per household and adhere to a strict usage schedule, ensuring each household has access to the water and the water source does not run dry.

Nearby, a women’s goat breeding group is still working, giving goats to households in the community and selling the extra goats.  This income is helping with children’s school fees. In the coming year, with additional proceeds, the 25 members of the goat breeding group hope to start a pharmacy in the village for community members.

In Kateba, I met a mother care group who continue to teach health and nutrition messages to new mothers and child caretakers in their community. Using songs and flipcharts to teach the messages introduced by FH, women are improving their household’s health and nutrition, all with their own food resources. They were proud to declare the village free of malnutrition as a result of these efforts.

The seed multiplication station in Emilingombre made a lasting impression on me. This station resulted directly from the difficulties they had in their first development food aid program procuring improved seeds and cuttings of disease resistant varieties of cassava, bananas, and other crops. This challenge resulted in FH creating a seed multiplication station within its new beneficiary communities so farmers had more direct access to seeds and seedlings. Using seeds and seedlings developed on demonstration plots from their previous program, they have built a 22 hectare station and nursery, which the communities will maintain with Food for Work during the life of the program. Eventually, the station will be self-sustained by the community to provide plant seeds and tree seedlings of multiple varieties. The tree seedlings will also help reforest nearby areas.

These small examples are reflective of a holistic set of activities USAID partners are implementing to address food security from all angles. I left DRC impressed by our partners’ ability to operate and communities to thrive in such a challenging environment. I am eager to see the gains they will make in the coming years.

Why Africa Water Week Matters

Last week, the White House unveiled a new strategy for Sub Saharan Africa (PDF) to promote opportunity and development, particularly sustainable access to clean water. Walter North shares highlights from his recent participation in Africa Water Week addressing the world’s most devastating water challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.

Water is fundamental to development. As Secretary Clinton said during World Water Day earlier this year, “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.”

Most of the world’s water challenges are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 300 million Africans lack access to safe drinking water and more than 500 million lack access to improved sanitation. Every year 800,000  children die from diarrhea – one child every 20 seconds. USAID recently launched the “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday” campaign, to envision a world where diarrhea is no longer one of the top three killers of children under five. Since diarrhea is primarily caused by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene, USAID must target the people and places most in need.

Mid-May, I spent some time with water ministers, professionals and NGOs from across Africa working in the water sector to discuss these challenges, as part of as part of the fourth Africa Water Week, held in Cairo. There, I was delighted to hear a commitment to action – not just further discussion – from everyone gathered at the most comprehensive gathering of water sector experts on the continent.

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