Every day that the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on underscores that access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) has never been more important.
Luckily, Congress agrees. In recognition of the importance of WASH, on the morning of Tuesday, September 15, a group of bipartisan members in the House of Representatives came together and officially launched the International Water and Sanitation Caucus at a virtual event, “WASH During COVID-19: What We Know So Far.”
Partisan issues dominate the news as we near the 2020 election. Still, the founding members of this Caucus—co-chaired by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Darin LaHood (R-IL), Xochitl Torres-Small (D-NM), and Jackie Walorski (R-IN)—put partisan politics aside to highlight the global need for WASH and elevate its importance in U.S. development assistance and diplomacy.
In the Caucus press release, Congressman Blumenauer said, “Access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation is not only essential in the prevention of unnecessary disease and death, it is a basic human right.”
This is uncontestable. Yet, water security remains a global challenge, with 2.2 billion people around the world lacking access to safe drinking water and 45% of health care facilities lacking basic water services.
Beyond the critical role handwashing plays in preventing the spread of disease and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers at the event emphasized the cross-cutting role that WASH plays in development, humanitarian relief, and beyond. Representative LaHood noted that “While the global health benefits of adequate sanitation and water supply is central to the overall WASH goals, the economic benefits and national security impacts are commonly overlooked.”
This builds on a broad bipartisan legacy of leadership in international WASH, as demonstrated by the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 and subsequently enacted Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act in 2014. As the pandemic challenges development progress around the world, continued U.S. leadership is greatly needed in this sector to ensure that—both in the short and long-term—all countries can respond to and recover from COVID-19 and WASH is integrated into all U.S. response efforts.
Without WASH at the top of the U.S.’s agenda, all of our global efforts will be less effective. Throughout all of this, strong partnerships are critical, as emphasized at the event by leaders at USAID, UNICEF, NGOs, and the private sector.
Moving forward, InterAction’s WASH Working Group looks forward to the opportunities to elevate WASH in international development and humanitarian relief that will be driven by the new International Water and Sanitation Caucus. We also urge additional Representatives who recognize that water and sanitation are foundational to global health, nutrition, economic productivity, ecosystem protection, U.S. trade, and our own national security to join the Caucus.
If you would like more information on InterAction’s WASH Working Group or the International Water and Sanitation Caucus, please contact Kelsey Harris.