Bipartisan lawmakers in the US unite to advocate for WASH

A coordinator testing a water pump station at a community village in South Sudan. Photo by: UNMISS / CC BY-NC-ND

ALICANTE, Spain — Politicians from both sides of the U.S. political spectrum have come together to advocate for global access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

The International Water and Sanitation Caucus, which launched this week, was founded by a bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers who believe WASH is central to national and global health, as well as economic productivity, ecosystem functions, and national security.

“The caucus will raise awareness not only for the need for safe drinking water, but on how connected WASH is to so many other development goals.”

— Danielle Heiberg, advocacy adviser, Global Water 2020

The group will work to raise awareness and advocate for WASH among policymakers on Capitol Hill in the hopes of improving access both domestically and internationally.

Rep. Darin LaHood, a Republican from Illinois and one of the caucus's founders, called inadequate water and sanitation around the world “a risk to America's national security and global health.”

Globally, 785 million people lack access to clean drinking water and 2 billion do not have access to proper sanitation. According to a News21 investigation, 63 million people in the U.S. have been exposed to unsafe water multiple times in the past decade. Drinking contaminated water can lead to diseases such as dysentery, cholera, and dengue.

Despite this, the U.S. government currently spends less than one hundredth of 1% percent of the federal budget on global WASH. The federal budget for the 2020 fiscal year is $4.79 trillion. For the first time in three fiscal years, the U.S. Congress last year increased international funding for WASH by 8% to $435 million.

The World Bank estimates that to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 on access to safe water and sanitation for all, global investments would need to triple to an annual $114 billion.

WASH implementers are hopeful that funding from the U.S. could increase as the caucus gets underway and looks to expand crucial, cost-effective investments.

WASH advocates worry about 'short memory' of donors

Advocates must act now, WASH leaders say, to ensure the current focus on access to clean water and hand-washing facilities translates to longer-term support.

“We now have formalized congressional advocates and champions for WASH investments and policy that will improve global health, development, and economic opportunities around the world, with real impact,” Danielle Heiberg, advocacy adviser at Global Water 2020, an initiative focused on water access and security, told Devex.

“The caucus will raise awareness not only for the need for safe drinking water, but on how connected WASH is to so many other development goals, like maternal and child health, nutrition, girls’ education, [and] safe health care facilities,” she said.

Sam Worthington, CEO of InterAction, said in a statement that American leadership is more critical now than ever, given WASH’s essential role in the prevention of, response to, and recovery from COVID-19. An estimated 1 billion people are at immediate risk of COVID-19 because they cannot adequately wash their hands, according to UNICEF.

“Without WASH at the top of the agenda, all of our global efforts will be less effective,” Worthington said.

About the author

  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.