The US agenda on global water security

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By Erika Yarrow-Soden

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Department of State have launched the 2022-2027 US Global Water Strategy to help guide government efforts over the next five years to advance health, prosperity, stability, and resilience through improved water resources management and increased access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene. This strategy is the primary vehicle for implementing the White House Action

Plan on Global Water Security

The 2014 Water for the World Act requires that USAID and the US Department of State deliver a whole-of-government Global Water Strategy to Congress. The first was in 2017 and this is refreshed every five years through to 2032. The 2022 strategy has led to the delivery of the first White House Action Plan on Global Water Security.

Strategic objectives

Under this strategy, the US government will work through four interconnected and mutually reinforcing strategic objectives to:

  • Strengthen sector governance, financing, institutions, and markets
  • Increase equitable access to safe, sustainable, and climate resilient water and sanitation services, and the adoption of key hygiene behaviours
  • Improve climate resilient conservation and management of freshwater resources and associated ecosystems
  • Anticipate and reduce conflict and fragility related to water.

New priorities

The strategy also advances new priorities, which include:

  • Adopting comprehensive, professional, and scalable approaches
  • Prioritising local leadership of water and sanitation systems and services
  • Integrating climate resilience to respond to the growing threat that climate change poses to water security
  • Increasing coherent implementation across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding contexts.

WASH Needs Index

The WASH Needs Index is critical in the identification of countries where water and sanitation must be delivered as a high priority. Aligned with the requirements in the Water for the World Act of 2014, the US government will focus its efforts under this strategy on those countries and geographic areas where the needs are greatest and where engagement can best advance US national security interests. These high priority countries are identified in part by calculating a WASH Needs Index Score.

Success to date

During the five-year implementation of the first strategy (2017-2022), USAID says that it exceeded its targets to provide 15 million people with access to safe drinking water and eight million people with access to sanitation services. Under the 2022-2027 strategy, USAID has expanded its ambition and committed to reach an additional 22 million people with access to safe drinking water and 22 million people with access to sanitation over the five-year implementation period.

Reducing water-related conflict

With a goal of improving health, prosperity, stability, and resilience through sustainable and equitable water resources management and access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, the strategy aims to reduce conflict related to water by strengthening global, national, and local systems, focusing on meeting the needs of marginalised and underserved people and communities, and those in vulnerable situations.

The strategy recognises that a country’s ability to manage water and sanitation effectively, profoundly shapes national socio-economic stability and political stability. It also identifies that water and sanitation services are significant to the advancement of equality, transparency, accountability, human rights, women’s empowerment, and strong civil society. Given this, the strategy aims to support political and diplomatic engagement and multi-stakeholder participation to improve investment in equitable, environmentally sustainable, and durable water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions by local and national governments.

USAID also seeks to align water and sanitation technical approaches across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding programming in fragile contexts through coordinated planning, analysis, and measurement. This includes:

  • Joint planning and analysis across relevant stakeholders to identify entry points and inform initial designs
  • Annual work planning, and collaborating, learning, and adapting activities, including stakeholder mapping, stakeholder analysis, scenario planning, gender and protection analyses and conflict analyses
  • Developing locally owned, shared metrics for success in watershed, water, sanitation, and hygiene programming across humanitarian, development, and peace actors operating within overlapping geographic zones
  • Monitoring support at the onset and throughout the duration of shocks, including the implementation of baseline and endline surveys to measure outcomes
  • Supporting complementary programming, such as engaging the private sector or using market-based approaches, while ensuring the basic needs of people in vulnerable situations are met.

For the US government, the strategy therefore represents a commitment to support efforts to understand and respond to the ways in which water security, sanitation, and hygiene intersect with marginalisation, with the aim of partnering with civil society organisations led by and for members of marginalised communities.

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