Since 2015, USAID Has Helped Provide Clean Water Access to 7 Million People. Now, That Aid Is Being Threatened
These are the ways that USAID helps, and how it could be hurt.
In 2015, the city of Flint, Michigan declared a state of emergency after dangerously high levels of lead were found in its drinking water. The ensuing scandal received massive media attention, and an outraged public voiced their concerns to government officials. Multiple celebrities and President Obama advocated on the issue until eventually, aid was given to the city, and long term plans were laid to rework the city’s water infrastructure.
The Flint water crisis brought to the public forefront an issue which is often taken for granted in the United States — access to clean drinking water. Being able to turn on a tap and trust that potable water will emerge is a privilege which many in the developed world have become accustomed to.
But millions of people around the world still lack stable access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation.
The World Health Organization reported that 844 million people worldwide still lack access to basic drinking water services. Two billion people continue to use drinking water sources contaminated with feces.
Furthermore, the WHO reports that 2.3 billion people around the world do not have access to toilets or latrines. Of those people, almost 1 billion of them defecate in the open, sometimes on streets or in exposed bodies of water, leading to the spread of disease.
Traditionally, the United States has funded programs dedicated to expanding global access to clean water and sanitation programs through USAID. But under the budget proposal released by President Donald Trump in May of this year, 32% of diplomacy and aid budgets would be eliminated.
Global Citizen is bringing you a brief overview of how USAID works to bring improved sanitation to millions around the globe, and how the organization would be impacted by Trump’s proposed funding cuts.
Take action to stop the cuts here.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
When it comes to increasing access to water and sanitation for people around the globe, USAID is one of the biggest players.
Created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the organization’s mission is to “partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity.”
The organization works in over 100 countries to promote “broad-scale human progress,” through humanitarian assistance, protecting human rights, improving global health, and much more.
USAID puts delivering stable access to clean water at the top of its list of goals.
On World Water Day in 2011, USAID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah emphasized the trickle down importance of water in global development, saying: “The impact of water on all aspects of development is undeniable: a safe drinking water supply, sanitation for health, management of water resources, and improvement of water productivity can help change the lives of millions.”
In that spirit, USAID rolled out its “Water and Development Strategy” in 2013. A five year plan designed to increase access to clean water around the globe, the strategy aims to create scalable programs that help impoverished communities develop the necessary water infrastructure to ensure access to drinking water and water for agriculture.
With these goals in mind, USAID has rolled out programs dedicated to improving water everywhere from Madagascar to Haiti, to Sri Lanka.
They have had been plenty of successes. Here are a few statistics from their website: 7.6 million people have received improved access to water since 2015 via USAID projects, and over 3 million people have benefited from USAID programs improving water use for agriculture.
USAID also recently established GlobalWaters.org, a website designed to share information and resources relating to clean water access between partner organizations and the general public.
USAID views access to water and access to hygiene and sanitation as inseparable. They commonly use the acronym WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) to emphasize the importance of delivering these resources to people at the same time.
In fact, in their Water and Development Strategy, USAID lays out specific goals for sanitation, including increasing access to sustainable sanitation services for first-time users, and expanding the prevalence of key hygiene behaviors.
The organization runs programs all over the world, from Ghana to Afghanistan, by partnering with NGOs and private companies to deliver on-the-ground results for people in need.
USAID has documented real progress toward these ends. Their website claims significant results when it comes to improving sanitation.
Over 4.3 million people have received improved access to sanitation services
Almost 250,000 renovated latrines were delivered to folks in rural Afghanistan
One quarter of Egypt’s population has received access to basic sanitation since USAID work began in 1970
USAID recently made urban sanitation a new global priority, noting that as rapid urbanization increases over the next three decades, the effects of 2.5 billion people migrating into cities without proper sanitation systems could be devastating.
This is less than 1% of the US government’s budget of $4.1 trillion.
At those funding levels, officials at USAID are scrambling to prepare for what might be an enormous blow to the scope of their operations.
A report by Foreign Policy notes that the agency plans on prioritizing the work of its field offices in the 100+ countries it operates in. Even with these measures, the organization estimates that between 30 and 35 field operations will shut down, and regional bureaus will be thinned by close to 65%.
Halting efforts to provide clean water and sanitation for all people would have massive consequences for the millions of people who already have limited or no access to these resources.
Cutting foreign aid could also harm the national security interests of the US — which the president prioritized in his proposed budget. In an open-letter to the president, 121 former generals and admirals signed on to a bipartisan plea from Congress members urging the president to reconsider how his budget would affect the long-term security of the country.
As of yet, no budget has been passed, and many are urging government officials to think very carefully about how such cuts would realistically impact the world.
“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios told Foreign Affairs. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.”
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