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Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Engagement on Water Issues


Fact Sheet
Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
October 1, 2010

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The U.S. Department of State, in coordination with partnering U.S. governmental agencies, has made water a foreign policy priority.  Our strategy is founded in the belief that U.S. investments in water and sanitation translate into investments in people, economic sustainability, as well as productive, safe living environments for everyone on the planet.
In FY2009, the United States committed about $774 million worldwide for water and sanitation related activities in developing countries.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers obligated about $600 million, $121 million, and $54 million respectively for water and sanitation-related activities in 62 countries. 

As a result of USAID investments in FY2009, more than 5.8 million people received improved access to safe drinking water and nearly 1.3 million received improved access to sanitation.  USAID-sponsored activities to improve the quality of water at its point of use resulted in more than 7.8 billion liters (or 2 billion gallons) of disinfected drinking water.

The United States is one of the largest donors to several multilateral development banks (e.g., the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank) which collectively provided more than $ 9.2 billion for water- and sanitation-related activities in 2009.  The United States also contributes to 10 international organizations that support water and sanitation projects around the world, as well as water and sanitation services in the context of humanitarian relief.  These include, inter alia, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Development Programme, the UN Environment Programme, the World Health Organization, and the UN Children’s Fund or UNICEF.  The U.S. government, through the State Department, is the largest single country bilateral donor to international humanitarian organizations such as the UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, providing over $1.7 billion in FY 2009 for assistance to refugees, a portion of which was dedicated to water, sanitation and hygiene services. 

In December 2005, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act.  The Act emphasizes the provision of affordable and equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries as a key component of U.S. foreign assistance programs. It requires the Secretary of State, in consultation with USAID and other U.S. Government agencies, to develop and implement a strategy “to provide affordable and equitable access to safe water and sanitation in developing countries” within the context of sound water resources management. It also requires the Secretary of State, in consultation with the USAID Administrator, to submit an annual report to Congress describing changes in the U.S. strategy and progress in achieving the objectives of the Water for the Poor Act.  A copy of this year’s report is available at  http://www.state.gov/e/oes/water/.

The Global Water Challenge – Key Facts

  • By 2025, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be living under water-stressed conditions, including roughly two billion people who will face absolute water scarcity.  Water scarcity and poor water quality will increase disease, undermine economic growth, limit food production, and become an increasing threat to peace and security.
  • We need clean water for a healthy world.  It is estimated that 1.8 million children die each year from diarrheal diseases, most often related to conditions of poor hygiene, sanitation, and water supply.  There are additional deaths due to complications of malnutrition.  Children cannot be adequately nourished if they suffer from chronic diarrhea.
  • Access to safe drinking water and access to sanitation are important measures of a country’s commitment to meeting basic needs.  The United Nations estimates that every $1 invested in sanitation, generates an economic return of up to $9.
  • Women and girls are water collectors and are disproportionately impacted by the lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation.  In some parts of the world, women and girls often spend several hours per day collecting water, foregoing other economic and education opportunities. Girls often have to drop out of school because of the lack of adequate sanitation.
  • Achieving sustainable increases in food production requires sound water management.  Eighty percent of cropland worldwide is rain fed (96% in Africa).  Seventy percent of the world’s freshwater goes to agriculture.  Without proper soil management, watershed management, and integrated management of water supply and demand, sufficient clean water will not be available to meet the needs of people, agriculture and ecosystems. 
  • More than 2.6 billion people in developing countries acquire over 20% of their food protein from fish.  In areas near lakes, rivers, estuaries, seas and oceans, the amount can be as high as 50% or more.  Sufficient water quantity and quality are vital to the continued availability of fish for these people’s nutrition.
  •  A recent World Bank study estimates that by 2030 global freshwater resources will be overdrawn by an average of 40%.
  • More than 260 river basins, home to over 40% of the world’s population, are shared between two or more countries.  Increasing demands and greater variability in rainfall will increase regional tensions over water.  
  • Perhaps the greatest impact of climate change will be on the hydrological cycle.  Greater variability in rainfall will likely increase the number and severity of floods and droughts, and rising sea levels, storm surges, flood damage, and saltwater intrusion will threaten human lives and livelihoods both directly and indirectly through diminished freshwater supplies.  More frequent and heavier precipitation events are likely to flush more pollutants into water systems, for reasons ranging from increased agricultural runoff to overloaded storm and wastewater systems.



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