The Environmental Change and Security Program organized a special briefing for the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water Supply and Sanitation to offer perspectives on U.S.-based efforts on global water supply and sanitation services. Selected experts in the field were invited to share their thoughts with the advisory board, led by HRH The Prince of Orange. The discussion focused on ways in which to engage a range of U.S. actors on water and sanitation issues, and how to increase funding for related projects.

Judah Ariel, the senior legislative assistant to U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, discussed the potential for the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 to increase government spending on water. In the act's first year, a significant proportion of U.S. funding went to emergency and disaster relief projects, as well as humanitarian efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This allocation balance left fewer resources for water projects that were part of larger development initiatives. All of the panelists agreed that securing financing for longer-term water and sanitation projects is a major hurdle. David Douglas, president of Water Advocates, recommended that the United States take a leadership role—both vocally and financially—on behalf of international water and sanitation, and that the UN encourage nations to take steps to create a Global Fund for Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Gordon Binder a senior fellow at the World Wildlife Fund, pointed to the broad-based attention water and sanitation issues are receiving from NGOs and the private sector in the United States and abroad. He encouraged HRH The Prince of Orange to engage these groups. To garner more funding, Binder stressed the need for better information—not only on the direct health impacts of water interventions, but also the economic, educational, and related benefits—to demonstrate that water projects pay off in many ways. This type of data is especially important, as water competes for dollars against roads, power, irrigation, and other traditional development assistance projects. He suggested creating a high-level position within the U.S. government that would champion water and sanitation, and he proposed training ambassadors and other U.S. diplomats and mission staff to better engage their foreign counterparts on these issues.

Karin Krchnak, director of international water policy at The Nature Conservancy, reported that the conservation and environmental community helps protect watersheds and river headwaters, which contributes directly to the provision of clean water to the poor in rural and urban communities. She stressed the importance of natural water supply systems to long-term water service delivery. Essential to this process, Krchnack noted, is the involvement of local community organizations to assess the work that is being done, figure out what needs to be protected in the future, and collaborate to make protection a reality. The Nature Conservancy and other similar organizations are beginning to collect data on the health and economic benefits of protecting watersheds to illustrate the impact of healthy watersheds on nearby communities.

The panel also discussed the role of development organizations, acknowledging that large institutions like the World Bank may not be suited in some circumstances to fund water and sanitation projects, which are typically small and community-based. Instead, because of their ability to give smaller loans, regional development banks may be better positioned to finance such efforts.

Water and sanitation issues are gaining prominence in some international circles: 2008 is the International Year of Sanitation, and water supply and sanitation will be addressed at the G8 summit in Germany. To further promote these issues, the panel recommended looking for angles to raise awareness at other international fora. Finally, the panel encouraged the advisory board to begin brainstorming ways to push these issues in 2009 with the new administration.

Drafted by Karin Bencala.