2017 Is Pivotal for U.S. Leadership on Global Water Security

2017 promises to be a key year for U.S. government leadership on a variety of issues. Not least among them is global water security. Never have the challenges of global water security been so severe, and never have the opportunities for American leadership in the sector been greater.

By October 1, 2017, the U.S. president, acting through the U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of State, and many other federal agencies, is required to submit the first-ever Global Water Strategy to the U.S. Congress.

This whole-of-government strategy, a requirement of the bipartisan Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2014, is a unique opportunity to bring U.S. leadership to bear on an issue many agencies are addressing independently and that would benefit from more focus, coordination and cooperation.

President-elect Trump will submit the first-ever U.S. Global Water Strategy to Congress in October

The Global Water Strategy must address how the U.S. government intends to increase access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); improve management of water resources and watersheds; and prevent or resolve water-related conflicts between and within countries.

We at Water 2017, a one-year effort to encourage the next U.S. president to elevate and integrate global water security across U.S. foreign policy, urge President-elect Trump to provide the resources – human, technical, financial – to fully implement this strategy in order to protect our national security and the security of our allies abroad.

Indeed, such efforts seem to mesh with the priorities he outlined during the campaign. “Perhaps the best use of our limited financial resources should be in dealing with making sure that every person in the world has clean water,” he told Scientific American in a response to a question about climate change.

Water 2017 submitted its recommendations for the Global Water Strategy, consisting of four major priority areas, in November to the Department of State as part of their open call. We ask that the president-elect consider them as well:

1. Be inclusive during both strategy development and implementation

While developing the Global Water Strategy, we encourage the drafters to seek input from a wide spectrum of stakeholders across the U.S. government, private citizens, and water leaders from developing country and donor country partners.


Many federal government agencies are active with global water security and WASH activities. A short list of relevant agencies includes the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A strong Global Water Strategy will include roles for each of these agencies and any others that work on global water issues. The U.S. government should seek input from all relevant agencies, regarding both their technical capacities and their geographic areas of focus; encourage other federal agencies to design their own agency-specific plans; and highlight ways in which agencies can work together to address priority challenges and geographies, including through the existing Interagency Water Working Group.


Americans from all walks of life – corporations, church groups, civic groups like Rotary, non-profits, academics – are actively working to help solve water challenges here and across the globe. In the development and implementation of the Global Water Strategy, the U.S. government should solicit input from these Americans in order to identify and prioritize programmatic opportunities to partner with their organizations and leverage the limited taxpayer dollars available.

Host-Country Governments and Donors

Perhaps most importantly, the Global Water Strategy should seek and include inputs from developing and donor countries where joint efforts are likely to have the biggest impact on human wellbeing, economic development, and stability. The drafters of the Global Water Strategy should work directly with other governments when detailing global priorities and programs, and when setting local and regional priorities. Priority should be given to those countries that have recently been, or are anticipated to be, one of the U.S. government’s priority countries for water.

2. Focus on effective implementation

The U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other members of the Interagency Water Working Group must focus now on how the strategy will be implemented over the long term, and what bureaucratic improvements or changes are necessary to do so. The strategy should create and support a clear chain-of-command for implementation, including individual and institutional leadership responsibilities for agreed-upon policies, programs, outputs, and outcomes.

The strategy should also clarify the relationship between field missions and headquarters in Washington DC, including how water-related funding will be managed as a whole and how DC will help design, support, and direct field-based activities related to the strategy. Water programs would benefit from the creation of in-country interagency teams, especially within priority countries, with a clear coordination function and a lead person responsible for implementing each country-specific plan.

3. Strengthen the Interagency Water Working Group

The Interagency Water Working Group is an active vehicle for coordination and implementation of the Global Water Strategy across its membership. The working group should continue to identify specific water challenges and develop programs on which members of the group can collaborate. The Global Water Strategy should strengthen and clarify the mandate of the working group and properly resource the group and its members through 1) a secretariat position tasked with identifying and presenting specific challenges to the group (technical or geographic) and ensuring that members are working together in an effective manner; and 2) additional financing to channel to individual members responsible for implementing agreed-upon activities.

4. Prioritize prevention

A focus on prevention – rather than reaction – provides a means to get ahead of a number of water-related security threats to the U.S. and its allies and will apply water funding in the most cost-effective manner possible. The Global Water Strategy should focus on ways to prevent water-related global security threats, including droughts and famines, water-related conflicts like Syria, migration, and water-related infectious diseases like cholera and Ebola.

Water security has strong, bipartisan support from Capitol Hill and Americans across all 50 states

The strategy should urge investments in tools, technologies, and information focused on prevention, such as forecasting, remote sensing, conflict resolution, and technical assistance. The strategy should also integrate water security concerns into relevant conversations within other sectors – food security, global health, conflict, migration – and ensure a water expert is included in security conversations regarding priority geographies at a high political level within the Department of State, the intelligence community, the National Security Council, and beyond.

Since President George W. Bush signed the Water for the Poor Act into law in 2005, the U.S. government and its many partners across the country and the globe have made substantial progress in addressing global water challenges. The U.S. intelligence community emphasized the importance of global water security to national security interests in its 2012 Intelligence Community Assessment on Global Water Security

The next U.S. president has an opportunity to build on the momentum from this past decade and better prepare the United States and its allies to both prevent and respond to water-related security threats. And President Trump can count on strong, bipartisan support for this issue from Capitol Hill and from Americans across all 50 states.

John Oldfield is the CEO of

Water 2017, a one-year effort to urge the next U.S. President and Congress to prioritize global water security across U.S. foreign policy. He previously led WASH Advocates from 2011-2015.

Sources: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Scientific American, U.S. Congress.

Photo credits: U.S. Army/Flickr.com.