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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, today we celebrate the passage of a bill I have been working on for 6 years--the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act.

    The bill is aptly named after my predecessor from Illinois in the Senate--Paul Simon. Paul Simon was ahead of his time on so many issues--including on the importance of clean water and sanitation for the world's poor.

    He understood if you wanted to avoid conflict between some nations, you had to look at the issue of water. He understood if you wanted to keep a girl in school or reduce infant mortality, you had to provide adequate sanitation and clean water. He understood that without clean water and sanitation, efforts [[Page S6912]] to improve health and economic opportunities will never be fully realized.

    In fact, a dollar spent on clean water and sanitation returns between $4 and $8 in economic, health, and other benefits. Paul understood all this.

    In 1998, he wrote the book, Tapped Out. It was prescient in its wisdom and policy proposals. Despite my recommendations, the book never became a bestseller. Though Senator Simon's wife, Patti Simon, has become a champion on water in her own right.

    In 2005, the Congress passed the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, which made providing access to clean water and sanitation for the world's poor a key priority in U.S. development assistance.

    When we passed this bill, it was the first time our Nation had written into law our commitment to any of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

    Since then, we have succeeded in increasing funding for these important goals. USAID established an Office of Water and a Senior Water Coordinator for Water, and last year, it launched its first-ever Global Water and Development Strategy to significantly increase clean water and sanitation programs.

    These efforts and the original legislation have made real differences in the lives of the world's poor. I have seen the simple wells providing water for thousands in Haiti.

    For the first time, water and toilets have been provided to slum communities in Indonesia, where USAID's program has helped the local water utility reach thousands upon thousands of poor people who never had access to clean water and sanitation.

    In fact, in 2012, the world achieved the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people in the world without access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. At that time, it was the only Millennium Development Goal to have been achieved.

    So for the last several years, we have tried to pass the Simon Water for the World Act--and in 2009 it passed the full Senate, only to stall in the House. Again last Congress, it passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    Today's version does not include everything from the original bill--I wish it would have included more. But such is the nature of compromise.

    Today, with passage of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act, we are going to make more progress.

    It would not have happened without my partner in this effort, Senator Corker, and strong support from Senators Coons, Flake, and Murray here in the Senate. I also need to acknowledge the leadership of Representatives Blumenauer and Poe and the great help of Representative Royce in the House.

    This bill will lock in many of the leadership, program, and strategic changes that have occurred around USAID water and sanitation programs in recent years. It will establish the diplomatic and conflict mitigation priorities around water at the Department of State. It will refine and establish key criteria to ensure our scarce foreign assistance dollars for water and sanitation are truly reaching the world's most impoverished populations.

    We have made progress. But there are still almost 1 billion people around the world who lack access to clean water, and at least 2.5 billion more people lack access to adequate sanitation.

    Every day in the developing world, 5,000 children die from water- borne diseases. Millions of poor children miss school every day because they have to walk for hours to find water for their families, or they are sick from drinking dirty water. Girls and women suffer most when this happens because they are the water-carriers of the world.

    Experts in the Pentagon and elsewhere have called the world water shortage a real and growing threat to America's own security.

    New York Times columnist Tom Friedman published a devastating piece about how drought and water mismanagement contributed to Syria's bloody civil war that makes that clear.

    We also know that every dollar we invest in clean water and basic sanitation yields many times that amount in benefits: people are healthier; kids stay in school; food is safer; AIDS drugs and other critical health treatments are able to work.

    So I thank my colleagues, my key cosponsors in the Senate and House, Patti Simon, and the many organizations for supporting this important legislation. It will help save lives.


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