Ambassador Marcia Bernicat on the U.S. Global Water Strategy
The overarching goal of the U.S. Global Water Strategy is to create a more water secure world, said Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans, and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the U.S. Department of State at a recent Wilson Center event. “Simply put,” she said, “a world where people have the water they need, where they need it, when they need it, without living in fear of floods or droughts.”
In honor of World Water Day 2019, Ambassador Bernicat took a look back at the challenges and objectives included in the U.S. Global Water Strategy, which was released in November 2017.
Three Main Challenges
“We addressed three major challenges in that strategy,” said Ambassador Bernicat. The first challenge is that a significant portion of the population in many countries still lacks access to safe drinking water and sanitation, she said. Nearly two billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and nearly four billion lack access to safely managed sanitation services. “This is not only a threat to human health,” she said, “but a factor in migration, civil unrest, and terrorist recruitment.”
Second, the U.S. Global Water Strategy sets out to tackle rising levels of water insecurity around the globe. By 2030, according to projections, more than half of the world’s population will be living in water stressed conditions. “Many countries will not have enough water to meet domestic, industrial, and environmental water needs,” said Ambassador Bernicat. “These countries are fundamentally water insecure and risk increased fragility or failure.”
The third challenge concerns the possibility of conflict over water. “More than 270 water basins worldwide are shared by two or more countries,” said Ambassador Bernicat. “As water resources become scarce and variable, tensions over shared waters are likely to grow, increasing the potential for conflict at the local and regional level.”
Four Strategic Objectives
To answer these challenges, the U.S. Global Water Strategy provides four strategic objectives:
1) to promote sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation services along with the adoption of key hygiene behaviors,
2) to encourage the sound management and protection of freshwater resources,
3) to reduce conflict by promoting cooperation on shared waters, and
4) to strengthen water sector governance, finance, and institutions.
“To achieve these objectives, the United States is building capacity, investing in infrastructure, promoting science, technology, innovation and information, mobilizing financial resources, engaging diplomatically, and strengthening partnerships, intergovernmental organizations, and the international community,” said Ambassador Bernicat.
The Importance of Interagency Cooperation
The U.S. Global Water Strategy relies heavily on an interagency approach to address these global water challenges. More than 20 U.S. government agencies work on water in more than 60 countries. “This is not a problem that the United States will solve alone. It is through partnerships where we can leverage our respective strengths where we will be most successful,” she said. “And that is the message for today.”
Because the problems matter, they are worth tackling head on, said Ambassador Bernicat. “I am convinced that working together, we can achieve a more water secure future.”