by Lawrence Harrington
Oct. 4, 2010
Lost in the high decibel debate of a polarized mid-term election, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker recently teamed with Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to pass the World Water Act, a measure to provide clean water and sanitation to 100 million people around the globe.
If the measure is passed by the House and signed by the president, billions of dollars and millions of lives — most of them children — can be saved thanks to leadership and long-term thinking from both sides of the Senate chamber.
For those of us who have come to expect clean drinking water at the turn of a handle, the problem can be hard to grasp.
The complexity of water and sanitation challenges around the globe became apparent to me when I was running the
Worldwide drinking water is scarce
Over a billion people worldwide live without safe water. More than 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation, exposing them to intestinal diseases costing lives and economic productivity.
The burden of hauling drinking water in many rural areas falls most heavily on women and girls, making it harder for them to stay in school.
Scarce health resources are spent treating waterborne diseases.
Even before the full impact of climate change, lack of decent water can cause mass emigration and will be a major source of global insecurity in the coming decades.
The Water for the World Act builds on existing efforts to provide sustainable access to clean water and sanitation in less developed countries. The measure provides additional resources but ensures they will be spent effectively by encouraging donor coordination and rigorous project evaluation. It promotes global and regional cooperation on research and technology.
For foreign aid skeptics, water and sanitation is a good investment. A dollar spent in this sector can return as much as $8 by increasing productivity and reducing the health care and other expenditures that result from lack of water and sanitation. Our military can tell you that a good well may be more important to securing a village than fortifications. Integrated water management reduces infrastructure costs by billions of dollars, investments that many countries can ill afford.
Even in relatively developed countries in Latin America such as
Closer to home at
Recently, members of Engineers Without Borders spent valuable vacation time using their skills to bring water to a poor village in
A Vanderbilt engineering student, Leslie Labruto, a member of the group, recently turned 21. She told friends to forget a party and instead give money so a village in central
Thanks to her selflessness, the village will have a source of clean water for years to come.
Sen. Corker points to personal involvement like this — church missions he made to
Corker’s time as mayor of
Tennesseans should hope this bipartisan spirit moves the World Water Act through the House to the president’s desk.
Larry Harrington is an adjoint professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt and a