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Thursday, February 2, 2023

PERSPECTIVE: White House Assumes Important New Global Security Role with Focus on Water Security

Access to clean water is a linchpin for stability. Violent extremists control populations when they control water sources.

The White House recently took an unprecedented step to make our country and world safer, healthier, and more food secure — a step many of us in the health security sector have long-awaited from any administration, Republican or Democrat. Thankfully, it’s a subject upon which both sides of the aisle agree.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced the first-ever White House Action Plan on Global Water Security, which outlines approaches to increasing water security both in the U.S. and abroad. Advancing global water security is fundamental to everything from domestic and international health and equity to economic growth and peace and stability around the world. This Action Plan needs to be taken seriously by stakeholders across the U.S. government and civil society, as it can advance U.S. foreign policy priorities in diplomacy, defense, and development for years to come.

Notably, few issues have attracted the longstanding, bipartisan support from Congress as has global water security. Testament to that are the bipartisan Water for the Poor Act of 2005, the bipartisan Water for the World Act of 2014, and the congressional appropriations for global water that increase almost every year.

Access to clean water is a linchpin for stability. We’ve seen it time and time again in Syria, Nigeria, Iraq and more. Violent extremists control populations when they control water sources. Yet water security has waited far too long to be properly recognized as the pillar of security that it is.

This new Action Plan on Global Water Security offers paths to effectively head off threats near and far: from water-related infectious disease outbreaks in sub-Saharan regions that could become global health threats; to Middle East farmers who could turn to terrorist organizations when unable to farm due to water scarcity; to increased water resilience which is pivotal for hundreds of millions of people who need to adapt to changing climate conditions worldwide. The daily reality of climate change is, at its essence, too much water or not enough. Floods and droughts exploding into full-blown famines are extremely destabilizing and in places like Central America could result in waves of water refugees.

During the launch of the Action Plan on June 1, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “This Action Plan on Global Water Security will cement America’s role of leadership on water security issues.” USAID Administrator Samantha Power added, “Now is the time to address global water insecurity and expand access to proper sanitation and hygiene for everyone around the world,” a sentiment echoed by the vice president who also focused on the well-acknowledged gender and equity disparities associated with water insecurity. As the head of the all-female leadership team launching the Action Plan, Harris warned, “Water insecurity makes our world less equitable.”

A global water security plan of this profile from the White House can energize stronger U.S. leadership from both government and non-government stakeholders to take up the mantle. Announcing the Action Plan on Global Water Security, the vice president said, “Let’s get ahead of this.” She is wisely suggesting the U.S. government shift its focus to prevention. As the need for global water equity and security grows, it is worth paying attention to a few key next steps.

USAID and its many partners, including the departments of State and Defense, as well as the National Security Council, must take advantage of this recent and increased interest in water security to better integrate water into their plans. Because water insecurity contributes to state failure, addressing water challenges can make states and regions more stable.

A ‘prevention agenda’ that focuses water investments in areas like cholera hotspots, and regions where neglected tropical diseases are endemic and contribute to deep poverty, will help improve millions of lives and save billions of dollars as it helps shore up overall stability. The “Day Zero” water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, is only the first of more to come. Where are the next 10 destabilizing “Day Zeroes” around the world where water taps may literally run dry, and what can we do today to prevent them?

Considering the magnitude of need and the readily available solutions, sustainable WASH interventions remain under-weighted in donor country portfolios. The U.S. can influence parliaments and heads of government across the global north and south with stronger U.S. water leadership, and better prioritize water investments in their own budgets. The U.S. holds a strong position to support this agenda through, among other vehicles, its strengthening of the African Ministers Council on Water.

The Biden/Harris administration is taking this foundational and well-timed leap forward to address the many water security threats at home and abroad, as the global community prepares for the next global climate conference, COP27, and what will likely be the most pivotal global water event in almost 50 years: the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, a midway review of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation (2018-2028).

In her announcement, Vice President Harris said, “Water insecurity makes our world less stable. Let’s get in front of this. Let’s take it seriously.” Indeed, stronger U.S. public and private leadership on global water security can significantly increase stability in far too many regions facing increased volatility, giving millions the opportunity to lead lives free from fear and free from want, including here in the U.S.


The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email Editor@Hstoday.us.

John Oldfield
John Oldfield is CEO at Accelerate Global, LLC, advising non-profit, corporate, and government clients in their efforts to rapidly and sustainably accelerate progress toward water, health, security, climate, gender, and environment goals. He was most recently the Managing Principal at Global Water 2020 and is an internationally recognized advocate for global water security. He has testified before the U.S. Congress several times and has been published and interviewed in The Hill, Forbes, NPR, New Security Beat, Circle of Blue, The Guardian, and Inside Philanthropy. He has spoken at the National Defense University and several colleges and universities, and addressed the Skoll World Forum, Clinton Global Initiative, Rotary International, CEO Water Mandate, and more. Previously, John was the CEO of Water 2017, encouraging the entire U.S. government to elevate and integrate global water security across the U.S. foreign policy and national security architecture. John has developed and disseminated strategic policy, personnel, and programmatic recommendations for the President, National Security Council, federal agencies, Congress, and private-sector stakeholders. He also successfully influenced the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2020, requiring the U.S. intelligence community to “report on the implications of water insecurity on the national security interests of the United States.” @JohnforWater

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