On December 1, 2005 President Bush signed into law the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act (H.R. 1973). For the first time in our history, the Executive and Legislative Branches had made drinking water and sanitation a major foreign policy goal of the United States.
Ambassador McDonald has a long history of involvement with worldwide water issues. He was instrumental in launching the first United Nations Decade of Drinking Water and Sanitation (1981-1990) while at the State Department. The goal of the Decade was for all people in the world to have access to safe drinking water and sanitation. The Decade was very successful as it provided 1.1 billion people with access to safe water and 769 million people with access to improved sanitation.
In 2002, Ambassador McDonald proposed the launching of a Second UN Water Decade. The Ambassador of Tajikistan agreed to the role of government sponsor for the IMTD initiative, and the Second UN Water Decade was adopted on December 23, 2003 by the UN General Assembly. The Second Decade, “Water for Life” (2005-2015), began on World Water Day, March 22, 2005.
Since the Second Decade was launched, the UN has established a UN Water office to implement the Decade’s goals. As of 2009, there are four programmes being run by UN Water including the World Water Assessment Programme, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, the UN Water Decade Programme on Capacity Building and the UN Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication. Ambassador McDonald is pushing hard on all fronts to ensure that these programmes continue to support water and succeed in satisfying the goal of the Decade, which is to place a greater focus on water-related issues and satisfying the UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing by half, the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015.
Ambassador McDonald has long realized the importance of providing clean water and sanitation to the world’s poor, but water issues have only recently begun to be seen as a vital and necessary prerequisite to sustainable development. Not only is water needed for basic survival, but its links to health (e.g. HIV and diarrhea), security (e.g. conflicts over water in the Middle East), and economic growth (e.g. freeing women, the water carriers, for more productive work) prove that water is an essential component of sustainable development. The Water for the Poor Act and the UN Water for Life Decade are historical opportunities to provide clean water and sanitation for all.
While the international community has initiated measures to make water and sanitation a priority issue, the United States has been stagnant ever since the signing of the Water for the Poor Act of 2005. However, a new administration has sparked hope that water will now see its proper place among foreign affairs issues and currently IMTD, through its Water and Sanitation Project, is supporting the fight to make water a priority. We are supporting the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009, which is circulating through Congress (S. 624 & H.R. 2030), through advocacy efforts. We are also pushing for water and sanitation to become a higher priority issue in the State Department and USAID by asking for higher appropriations to these branches from Congress and asking for the appointment of high level water officials, including the appointment of an Ambassador in the Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs in the State Department. Finally, we continually attempt to procure funds for missions in countries around the world that suffer from zero or limited access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation.