US Secretary of State joins high-level coalition to mark World Water Day and stress urgency of ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries

March 22, 2010 by PATH

Contacts: John Sauer, 202.293.4003,; Jen Farber, 202.572.2878,

Coalition of nearly 30 organizations from the public and private sectors, including foundations and faith leaders, announce unprecedented call for action to raise awareness and spur stronger commitments to address the global water crisis

Washington, DC, March 22, 2010—Today is World Water Day and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, former US Ambassador to the Organization of American States Hattie Babbitt, National Geographic Society Chairman Gil Grosvenor, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and Global Water Challenge Chairman Bill Reilly and other key private-sector, foundation, faith and nongovernmental organization leaders along with Kenna, the Grammy-nominated artist behind Summit on the Summit, to call for immediate action to ensure access to safe, clean water and improved sanitation in the developing world. They convened at “Uniting for Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation,” an event at the National Geographic Society, which kicked off two days of World Water Day activities in Washington, DC.

At a time when one in six people worldwide does not have access to safe drinking water and two in five people lack access to basic sanitation, the water crisis is among the most pressing issues the global community faces—affecting health, child survival, gender equity, education, the environment, poverty and political security. While many factors—climate change, geography, poor water systems, lack of infrastructure and failed policies—have contributed, the fact remains that billions of people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

“In an era of increasing scarcity, ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation for the world’s poor is critical,” said US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero. “We must understand water’s implications for food security, peace and conflict, particularly in regions of increasing shortage.”

Today, the impact of the global water crisis can be seen most clearly in the women and children of the developing world. Children are the most susceptible to water, sanitation and hygiene-related illness, which factors into nearly all of the major causes of child death, including diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. Beyond the health impact, women and young girls often bear the economic and educational costs, since they are most likely to spend their time collecting and transporting water for their families. Millions of school-age children are also affected, as more than one-half of all primary schools in developing countries do not provide safe water and nearly two-thirds lack basic sanitation.

“We cannot wait to improve access to water and sanitary conditions for future generations,” said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa, in a video address. “Water and sanitation are fundamental to overall human development and both play a critical role in achieving all eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Safe water and sanitation improve health, advance education, reduce poverty and drive economic growth.”

“Water is the most pressing issue of our time,” said Gil Grosvenor, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Geographic Society. “It’s time we do something about it with solutions available today.”

In addition to the US government’s efforts, Ed Cain, Vice President of Grant Programs at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil and ONE DROP, announced new commitments to water and sanitation at the National Geographic event co-hosted by Water Advocates and the National Geographic Society. The event is to be followed by a series of high-level roundtable discussions at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They aim to generate strategies to improve water, sanitation and hygiene programs and to increase capacity to address global challenges.

To mark World Water Day 2010, a diverse coalition of nearly 30 US-based organizations came together in two days of activities to raise awareness and call for stronger commitments and more robust action to ensure universal access to safe water and sanitation everywhere they are needed.

"I have seen first-hand the debilitating issue of the global clean water crisis. The statistics are obvious. Water is interconnected with every major issue that the world faces. It should be the number one focus of everything we do,” said Kenna, musician and philanthropist. “My father almost fell victim to the water crisis when he was born without clean water being available in Ethiopia. If he had died, then I wouldn't be here."

Today’s activities will be followed by World Water Advocacy Day on Tuesday, March 23. Advocates from across the country will come together to call on Congress to increase support for sustainable water, sanitation, hygiene and child health programs. Senator John Kerry, Representative Jim McGovern and Mandy Moore, PSI Ambassador, singer-songwriter and actress, will join the effort. The day will include a Congressional briefing, “The Ripple Effect of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene on Global Health and Development,” lead by experts including Alexandra Cousteau, board member, Global Water Challenge; Dr. Greg Allgood, director, Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, P&G; Dr. Merri Weinger, program manager, Hygiene Improvement, USAID Bureau for Global Heath; Dr. Koki Agarwal, director, Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, Jhpiego; and Dr. Eric Mintz, team lead, Global WASH Epidemiology, Waterborne Diseases Prevention Branch, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be followed by an attempt to form the world’s longest toilet queue—part of a global effort to raise awareness around the need for safe water and improved sanitation.

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