U.S. Boosts Developing Nations’ Access to Safe Water, Sanitation

By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – A new State Department report outlines 2006 successes and 2007 strategies in U.S. efforts to provide affordable and equitable access to safe water and sanitation in developing countries.

The June 5 report to Congress offers detailed regional strategies for assisting those in need in Asia, the Near East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

"This is a prime example of how the United States is a leading country in efforts to improve the lives of millions in a real, tangible way," Claudia McMurray, assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, told USINFO.

Mandated by the first U.S. law to embrace a target – to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation – under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, the annual report is the second on progress in implementing the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005.

The eight Millennium Development Goals are a blueprint endorsed by nations and leading development institutions to halve extreme poverty, halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, provide universal primary education, ensure environmental sustainability and achieve other goals by 2015. (See related article.)

The more than 15 U.S. federal agencies involved in international water issues obligated more than $860 million in official development assistance for water, sanitation and related activities around the world in fiscal year 2006. (See related article.)

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) 2006 investment alone provided more than 9 million people with improved access to safe drinking water, and nearly 1.5 million with better access to sanitation. USAID also increased aid in some of the neediest areas of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

"Sound water management and increased access to water and sanitation are critical to human progress," the report reads. "The challenge, given limited resources, is determining where and how to focus U.S. efforts to achieve the greatest benefits in support of U.S. foreign assistance goals."


The law directs the State Department, with USAID and other U.S. government agencies, to develop a strategy "to provide affordable and equitable access to safe water and sanitation in developing countries," and help those countries develop sound water management policies and practices.

The first progress report, submitted in June 2006, laid out U.S. objectives on water, six major sectors in which the United States would focus its work and key principles by which to guide programs. (See related article.)

Goals included increasing access to and effective use of safe water and sanitation to improve human health, enhancing water resource management and productivity, and strengthening water security through cooperation on shared waters.

In August 2006, the State Department asked its embassies and USAID’s missions to assess the water and sanitation situation in more than 60 countries to identify challenges and opportunities for U.S. engagement.

Responses showed every region considered better governance of water resources a key opportunity for effective intervention. Also listed were sanitation, hygiene education and safe management of household water.

These assessments laid the groundwork for regional strategies included in the 2007 report. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, where few countries are making progress toward the Millennium Development Goal target – the report calls for specific steps:

• Expand access to small-scale water supply and sanitation, including watershed protection;

• Enhance hygiene education;

• Improve utility governance and regulation;

• Mobilize domestic financing for water projects; and

• Increase local and transboundary capacity for reducing water conflict.


With U.S. government funding in 2006, many countries made progress toward improving their populations’ access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

The work of 290 Peace Corps volunteers gave nearly 276,000 people access to improved water and sanitation in 805 communities in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Kiribati, Mali, Panama and Paraguay.

In 18 countries in Africa and Asia, U.S. government partners sold about 23,000 bottles of chlorine solution - enough to give 12.5 million people two liters of safe drinking water a day. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designed this "Safe Water System," and it has been scaled up with USAID and other donor support and ongoing CDC technical assistance.

More than 200,000 people in 129 communities of Burkina Faso received clean water for schoolchildren and residents as part of a joint initiative between the Millennium Challenge Corporation and USAID to improve the health and educational status of rural girls. (See related article.)

In Iraq, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built 449,200 cubic meters of daily water-treatment capacity, potentially benefiting 2.2 million people.

Besides the regional strategies, the Water for the Poor Act requires goals, benchmarks and timetables for the work being done in developing countries, and methods to assess what is needed most in each country and whether interventions already implemented are working.

The full text of the 2006 and 2007 reports, as well as McMurray’s May 21 prepared testimony on this issue is available on the State Department Web site.

Additional information about the Millennium Development Goals is available at the U.N. Web site.

For more information about U.S. policies, see Global Development and Foreign Aid.