In today's Q&A, Lisa Bos -- World Vision's policy adviser for health, education, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) in Washington, D.C. -- describes the Water for the World Act and explains why this new legislation is vital for providing clean water where it's most needed. Lisa is an expert when it comes to this bill -- she helped write it!
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1. The United States already has legislation that makes water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) a priority for U.S. foreign and development policy. What does the Water for the World Act do, and why is it important?
There is an existing law called the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act that has been the guiding force for U.S. WASH policy since 2005. As you can imagine, a lot has changed in development and in WASH programming since then, so the main goal of the Water for the World Act is to update the law, adding new provisions to improve effectiveness and sustainability of programs as well as make permanent several U.S. government positions that oversee WASH programs. Most importantly, the bill would focus WASH funding on reaching those most in need of water and sanitation. Some 748 million people lack access to clean water, and 2.5 billion lack access to improved sanitation, and we know that these are the poorest and most marginalized people we should be trying to reach.
2. This bill is said to increase effectiveness of the existing water bill without any additional cost to taxpayers. How is that possible?
It is all about maximizing impact, which the bill does by requiring USAID to work with local experts and partner countries to identify what programs and strategies are needed. Technology has come a very long way and so has WASH programming, so we need to learn from experience and work better and smarter in order to stretch limited dollars.
3. By changing this bill to focus on certain countries that need WASH aid, and not raising additional funds, countries that currently receive WASH aid will lose it. Why change that priority?
The Water for the Poor Act in 2005 was, as its name implies, focused on reaching the poor. Unfortunately, as the law has been carried out, some of that focus has been lost. So yes, the bill would impact some countries currently receiving WASH funds and redirect that funding to countries that face greater need, but this was always the law's intent. It's also the approach that will have the greatest impact on saving the lives of children from water-related diseases like diarrhea, which kills millions of children every year.
4. Over the past few years, this bill has received support in both the House and Senate. What are some of the challenges this bill still faces in order to be passed into law?
Where we are fortunate with this legislation is that it is bipartisan and has no cost, which is why you see support ranging from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats. But there are thousands of bills introduced in Congress every year, so to really get momentum, you have to make a little noise. This means getting as many cosponsors on the bill as possible and having people contact their member of Congress to tell them how important this bill is. Getting a law passed is not an easy process, even with a bill that seems like a no-brainer, so we just have to keep pushing and pushing, and our persistence will pay off.
5. You gave input into this bill. How did you get involved in that? What was that process like? Have you written legislation before?
I worked on Capitol Hill for over eight years, so I've been involved many times in writing legislation. With Water for the World, the lead sponsors, Representatives Blumenauer and Poe, were great in allowing those organizations who do WASH work to give input into their bill. They understand that those of us who are doing this work day after day can take the lessons we learn from the field and use them to inform laws and policies. World Vision is the leading NGO providing water around the world -- every 30 seconds, we give a person access to clean water -- so our input and support of the bill was important.
You can help make the Water for the World Act a law. Order postcards to tell your friends and family about the bill and to show your support. Then, join us in Washington, D.C., this March. Find out details, including how you can get to D.C. with all expenses paid, here: "We are bringing water to the world!"