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U.S. prepares new partnership to share water knowledge, technology

Julia Pyper, E&E reporter

Today's U.N. World Water Day will draw attention to the 1 billion people without access to clean water and the strong efforts to reduce that number, including a new U.S. initiative to incorporate private-sector leverage in tackling the water crisis.

"Our job ... is to make sure that we use World Water Day this year and every year as a tool to increase the number of people who understand how pressing the global water challenge is," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) at a clean water event hosted this week by the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

In the course of his 10-minute address, Blumenauer said 30 children would die needlessly of water- related issues and that women would spend hundreds of millions of hours collecting water throughout the day. He asked whether enough has been done to make people aware of these facts. The answer, he said, is no.

"I truly believe the United States needs to face up to its opportunities and responsibilities, priding itself as the richest and most powerful nation in the world, to understand the power that comes from being able to deal meaningfully with this challenge," he said.

Late last year, Blumenauer and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced bipartisan legislation, called the "Water for the World Act of 2012," that would strengthen U.S. foreign assistance for water and sanitation by implementing new water strategies within the State Department but would not increase the foreign aid budget.

As the Water for the World Act continues to gather support, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with Blumenauer, will today announce the new U.S. Water Partnership (USWP), which would complement the bill. The USWP will be a public-private partnership designed to share U.S. knowledge and resources to facilitate cross-sector partnerships that would address water accessibility challenges. The USWP will also answer some of the concerns outlined in a new global water security assessment set for release today by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Through the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. government has already invested nearly $800 million in access to water, sanitation and hygiene in nine partner countries. Just last month, the organization signed a new five-year, $66.2 million compact with the government of Cape Verde, which will focus on strengthening the water, sanitation and land management sectors.

The Millennium group yesterday underscored the role of private institutions, highlighting Coca-Cola Co. for its $6 million contribution to the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) program, which aims to provide at least 2 million people in Africa with access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015.

Last week, in the lead-up to World Water Day, hundreds of delegates met at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France, to discuss the implementation of water solutions.

A cause aligned with climate adaptation

The conference ended with the adoption of the Marseille Ministerial Declaration, which reiterates governments' commitment to the Millennium Development Goals related to clean water and sanitation,

highlights the role of water in building a green economy and underscores that improved energy efficiency in water services can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The declaration also acknowledges the need to build climate change resilience through integrated land and water management and to develop strategies that address national and transboundary disaster prevention and responses.

"Water issues are perhaps the most important manifestation of climate change," said Henry Venema, director of the International Institute for Sustainable Development's Water Innovation Centre. Because of this intimate link, "water systems adaptation is crucial for climate adaptation," he said.

One way the Millennium Challenge Corporation plans for this is by incorporating resilience into its programs for urban water utilities in developing countries, which often already suffer from intermittent service and supply.

"Resilience means not only are they financially sustainable, but they have a planning process in place ... to anticipate what kinds of impacts from -- it might be climate change -- or really any number of issues that might be coming down the road," said Omar Hopkins, director for infrastructure at Millennium.

Resiliency is also a hot topic in the United States, where Congress looks to secure the country's water systems for the next generation at a time of dwindling revenues.

In a hearing yesterday before the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Ben Grumbles, president of the Clean Water America Alliance, called for investments in green infrastructure to improve the sustainability of U.S. water infrastructure.

"[T]he data is coming out in that communities can manage stormwater and prevent overflows, improve air quality, reduce the 'urban heat island effect,' and enhance livability through innovative approaches that integrate more green infrastructure with existing gray infrastructure," Grumbles said in his written testimony.

By addressing water issues in a sustainable way, Congress could also end up making the United States and elsewhere far more prepared for climate change.

Asked whether climate change adaptation could be tackled through water projects, Blumenauer said, "We have to." He added, "Whether or not you want to believe that this is part of a human-caused catastrophe -- that it's kind of a slow-motion train wreck -- the fact is, these [droughts and floods] are things that are happening now, and we need the tools to try and cope with it."

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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