When Congress chooses to act with a bipartisan focus on doing the right thing, barriers are broken and good things can happen. Good things such as saving and improving millions of children’s lives.
As one of its last acts, the 113th Congress passed the Water for the World Act. Many members of Congress advocate for foreign aid that prioritizes those in greatest need, continues successful interventions, increases transparency and coordination, and achieves a strong return on investment. The Water for the World Act fulfills each of these goals.
But it didn’t pass without some drama.
This “nice little water bill” as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it, became a vehicle of war — quite literally — when another senator thought to use it as a way to declare war against the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIL or ISIS. McCain found himself aghast, asking, “Where in that little book on how the laws are made does it say filing a water bill gets a declaration of war?” The war maneuver was shot down by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Then, at the last minute, a concerned senator put a hold on the bill seeking an offset to cover its de minimis cost. Our investment in safe water, sanitation and hygiene training delivers $4 of return to the local economy for every dollar spent. Most Americans consider safe water as the best investment America can make overseas and overwhelmingly support this effort. Senate adjournment was delayed for several days and miraculously, some say, the senator lifted the hold and the Senate approved the Water for the World Act by unanimous consent only four hours later. This law will help ensure access to life-giving water to millions of people around the world, especially children.
What this means for 13-year-old Lucy is life changing: Every day, Lucy Marwa rises before dawn to fetch water. She braves a two-hour, 12-kilometer walk through a dark, overgrown ravine to bring home 10 gallons of dirty, unsafe water to her family. They have no choice.
But Lucy has big dreams. She dreams of being a newscaster. (Her favorite subject in school is English.) She dreams of the day when she can get a job and help her parents. She dreams of the day when her village near Kisumu, Kenya, has a clean-water well. With clean water, she will be safe and healthy, and free to stay in school and dream.
From hunger to health, economic development to gender rights, even regional peace, water is the keystone problem — and keystone solution –— to so many of the world’s ills. And helping provide clean water overseas also helps here at home. It helps prevent the spread of diseases, such as Ebola, and even improves our national security.
Adequate water supply is a necessity to food production. A January 2014 threat assessment by intelligence officials said the “lack of adequate food will be a destabilizing factor in countries important to United States national security . . . and might also provide opportunities for insurgent groups to capitalize on poor conditions, exploit international food aid, and discredit governments for their inability to address basic needs.”
U.S. national security extends beyond defense spending. Since World War II, a strategic balance of defense, diplomacy and development has constituted our bipartisan-supported national security foreign policy.
Water for the World was created with bipartisan support and introduced in the House on Aug. 1, 2013, by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who has long lobbied for greater access to water for all, with support from Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. Its companion version was introduced in the Senate on Nov. 19, 2014, by Sens. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and was co-sponsored by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Each of these leaders has shown good judgment in supporting this smart legislation and I, along with scores of advocates and organizations, thank them for coming together to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
As I look ahead I have hope that America will celebrate our many successful U.S. foreign aid policies that save and improve millions of lives, and be a global leader on behalf of “the least of these.” The provision of water is a necessity of life, health, education and economic productivity. Working together, good things can happen and that gives me hope — for all God’s children.
Malcolm S. Morris is chairman of the Millennium Water Alliance.