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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at Event Sponsored by the World Resources Institute and National Defense University in Recognition of Earth Day, Fort Lesley J. McNair
April 10, 2000, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

"An Alliance for Global Water Security in the 21st Century"

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, it's wonderful to be here and it's wonderful to have the Mayor of Washington be a personal friend and to give such a kind introduction. And, Mr. Mayor, I do love being one of your constituents -- subjects. (Laughter.)

General Chilcoat, Ambassador Simpson, President Lash, students and faculty of the National Defense University, invited guests and friends. I am very, very pleased to be here at Fort McNair to kick off the Clinton-Gore Administration's observance of Earth Day. Because I will be leaving for Central Asia at the end of the week, I have to get my two cents-worth in early, and want to thank the NDU and WRI for enabling me to do so.

And I am especially pleased that the Mayor could be here because the combination of his presence and mine reflects clearly the Rio Summit challenge to think globally and act locally. Saving a planet is a pretty big job, even for a Mayor, and that's why we need to join forces, adding strength to strength, at every level.

I also want to acknowledge the presence of Bob Nixon and the energetic and committed student members of the Earth Conservation Corps. This group is working hard to improve the water quality of the Anacostia River. And the Mayor and I look forward to a discussion and demonstration with them following my remarks.

The US Army War College was founded here in 1903, and the cornerstone laid by Theodore Roosevelt, our first conservationist President. But not even TR drew then the connection that this University does now between the defense of American security and the protection of the world environment.

As our armed forces can attest, that connection has been on display throughout the past decade.

In the former Soviet Union, we have been helping to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons facilities safely. And we know that easing that region's environmental challenges must be part of any real democratic transition there.

We also know that regional conflicts pose a major threat to international stability, and that competition for natural resources can contribute to political extremism and civil strife. Somalia was an example of this, and the Congo now is another.

And as we have seen in Africa, Haiti and the Balkans, environmental problems slow recovery from conflict, and make the transition to stability that much harder.

With the Cold War long since over, the need to respond to natural disasters has placed new pressure on our armed forces. During the past two years, we have sent troops to aid recovery efforts in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and Mozambique.

Beyond this, there is an even more basic connection. Our citizens cannot be secure if the air we breathe, the food we grow and the water we drink are at risk because the global environment is in danger.

The Clinton Administration came to office understanding these linkages. And that is why, in its first year, we established the positions of Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security, and an environmental director at the National Security Council.

The current holders of these positions are here with us, and I would like to recognize them for their dedication and leadership -- Under Secretary Loy, Ms. Sherry Goodman and our charismatic Assistant Secretary of State for Ocean, Environmental and Scientific Affairs, David Sandalow.

The story of Earth Day has been told many times and I will not retell it this morning. At its core is a simple awareness that our planet's resources are finite; and that if we don't manage them wisely, we will destroy both our natural heritage and ourselves.

In the thirty years since the first Earth Day, we have enacted sound laws and taken strong measures to clean our water, clear our air, preserve our wildlife and pluck the poisons from our land. These labors have been rewarded; our nation's environment is healthier than it was a generation ago. But it still somehow seems, as the Queen in Alice's Wonderland said, that "it takes all the running [we] can do, just to stay in the same place."

I have a farm over near the border with West Virginia. And not that long ago, the drive to it passed mostly trees and open land. Now, there are mostly malls, townhouses and fast food joints or, as we diplomats prefer to say, "establishments for rapid dining."

This reflects a relentless trend that is both local and global. Last year, the world's population surpassed six billion human beings. Almost every place, every year, people use more land, pollute more water, consume more energy, crowd more creatures into extinction and emit more chemicals into the atmosphere.

We are engaged in an ongoing experiment in which nature, itself, is being tested. And the limits are something about which we can only hazard an informed guess.

Since coming to office, President Clinton and Vice-President Gore have made it clear that environmental threats should be seen for what they are--namely, threats to our security.

That is why, four years ago, Secretary of State Warren Christopher explicitly incorporated environmental goals into the mainstream of US foreign policy. And we have been acting on that basis ever since.

Our priorities for the year 2000 include President Clinton's "Greening the Globe" initiative, under which USAID will allocate $150 million to the conservation of tropical forests.

We are asking the Senate to ratify the Desertification Convention and to back efforts to reverse the life-stealing loss of agricultural land, especially in Africa.

We are also urging the Senate to approve the Biodiversity Convention, for we cannot ensure our future without safeguarding our biological base.

We are working toward an agreement that would ban or severely restrict the production of twelve of the world's most deadly and persistent toxins.

And we are asking Congress to restore full funding for international family planning, which reduces environmental stress, while saving human lives.

And we are waging a worldwide diplomatic campaign to combat global climate change. This is the Administration's highest environmental priority. By now, the scientific consensus is clear that the Earth is getting warmer. If we don't address the problem, the economic and ecological consequences will be enormous--drought in some areas, floods in others, rising sea levels, and spreading disease.

The United States has the world's largest economy. Our scientists have designed the best environmental technology. And our society is by far the largest emitter of the gases that cause global climate change. So we have both the capacity and the obligation to lead.

That is why the Administration has taken bold strides to control greenhouse gas emissions while also growing our economy -- and why we are striving to shape an effective world response.

The Kyoto Protocol was an essential first step. We are committed to completing its rules in a manner that will pave the way for US ratification.

Getting those rules right will help the environment while also promoting economic gains. We cannot solve this problem alone. Soon, 50 percent of global emissions will come from developing countries. And that is why we are seeking their meaningful participation.

If we get the rules right and involve key developing countries, I am confident the United States will ratify the Kyoto Protocol and thereby take an historic step forward in the fight against global warming. And I can assure you, every time the President goes out he speaks with great vigor and understanding about the necessity of moving this forward and in talking to developing countries saying that their economy does not suffer if they can take these steps.

Our diplomatic efforts on behalf of the environment are wide-ranging, from deserts to the arctic, from the seas to the sky. But there is one issue that underlies them all, and that is water -- the world's most indispensable resource. And water will be the main focus of my remarks today.

I have chosen this topic because, although water is often thought of in very local terms, it is certain to be among the principal global environmental challenges of the 21st Century. And also, as a product of Ed Muskie who developed the Clean Water Act, I feel very close to this subject.

As a diplomat, I have seen firsthand the tensions that competition for water can generate, and the suffering that mismanagement and shortages can cause.

I have been to city after city where visitors are told not to drink the water--knowing that for the child I pass in the street, that's not an option.

And I have been to village after village, especially in Africa, where the term "water shortage" translates not into brown lawns and wilted flowers, as in our suburbs, but into whole communities of people prostrated by dehydration and weakened by disease.

Today, around the world, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. More than two billion live in countries experiencing some kind of water stress. At least five million people die every year from water-related illness. That's more than the population of Maryland.

And pollution is the great thief of fresh water, despoiling an ever-growing fraction of the world's supplies.

Of every two major rivers and lakes on the planet, one is seriously sick. On every continent, freshwater ecosystems have been harmed. And half the world's wetlands have disappeared.

Moreover, studies show that the squeeze on water resources will tighten as populations grow, demand increases, pollution continues, and global climate change accelerates.

As competition for water intensifies, further disagreements over access and use are likely to erupt. And unless properly managed, water scarcity can be a major source of strife, as well as a roadblock to economic and social progress.

But I didn't come here today simply to recite gloomy statistics. My intent is not to depress, but rather to mobilize; to heighten public awareness; and issue a call for action; because the world has the capacity, and increasingly the will, to create water security for all.

Obviously, we can't amend the laws governing the hydrologic cycle. The costs of tapping new water supplies are high. And few of us are skilled at the rain dance.

But there is much we can do, by keeping clean water clean; valuing fresh water appropriately; and encouraging those who share water to implement best practices together.

These facts were highlighted by the World Water Forum, which convened last month in The Hague. Present were representatives from nearly 130 countries and NGOs from across the globe. They joined in declaring that "every person, everywhere, should have access to enough safe water at an affordable cost."

Achieving that lofty standard is a challenge with many components, each requiring group effort. Within the United States Government, the State Department chairs an interagency water team. More than ten Departments and agencies participate, including DOD. And the skills and expertise of each are absolutely essential.

But our team is only a part of a far larger group. For we work with partners that include global and regional institutions such as the UN Development Program, the World Bank and OSCE. We also rely on the knowledge and dedication of NGOs such as the World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund and many other groups.

Together, we must address the water crisis in three ways. The first is technical, because our problems result far less from how much water we have, than from how much we waste.

For example, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global water use; yet irrigation systems squander as much as three out of every five gallons pumped. Better technologies, such as drip irrigation systems, and improved measurement and forecasting can reduce water use substantially while still getting the job done. The result is more crop per drop; a better payoff for the farmer, and a smaller environmental cost.

In this connection, Americans can be proud of the $20 billion that USAID has invested in water resources management over the years. Its projects have helped bring safe water to millions. They have enabled farmers to nourish their fields and grow food for their families. And they have helped local leaders implement irrigation techniques that conserve water and reduce erosion.

USAID has also pioneered the concept of seeking community input and support for water management. This is crucial because whatever the official policy, water is consumed locally. Unless individuals understand their own stake in preserving water supplies, and how their own actions affect that stake, management efforts obviously will fail.

So using water wisely requires good technology. Second, it requires good economics.

Because whether you have enough water depends in part on your attitude towards it. A leading magazine recently highlighted a pair of villages in India, one among the wettest places on Earth, the other plagued by drought. In the village where water seems plentiful, it is not valued, and shortages are frequent. In the village where rain comes as an unexpected gift, water is conserved, and shortages are rare.

This illustrates the lesson that, in many societies, water is wasted because it is under priced. Direct and indirect subsidies are common in both developed and developing countries. These subsidies are often built into investments that serve primarily those who are already well off. For example, the residents of many urban shantytowns can only obtain fresh water from peddlers, at a price far higher than that charged by local utilities.

I do not intend to suggest today that there is only one right way to price and allocate water. Social and other considerations--including needs of the poor--must be taken into account.

But a system that reflects the full cost of treating and delivering water--and that enforces the collection of bills and requires polluters to pay--will get far more value from the resource than a system riddled with subsidies. And as the World Water Forum concluded, incentives must be found for more water-related investments and technology.

Using the right techniques, and developing sound pricing policies can help a nation get the most out of their water resources. But it cannot guarantee water security. As is common, those resources extend across national lines. There are more than 300 shared river basins and aquifers in the world. And two out of every five people rely upon them.

These people are dependent not only on what they do themselves, but also on the practices of their neighbors who live up the river or across the lake, or who draw water from the same underground source.

And as students of military history well know, relations among neighbors can be dicey. The ability to work together is critical, but will likely be complicated by political, social, economic, and even cultural considerations.

And this is where the third element--diplomacy--comes in.

Experts tell us that water management is best done on a watershed or basinwide basis. This requires all who have a stake, whether in or outside government, to join in developing approaches tailored to regional needs. We have learned this in our own backyard, through the approach taken to cleaning up some of the 150 rivers and streams--including the Anacostia and Potomac--that spill into Chesapeake Bay.

We have also learned it in relations along our borders.

Earlier this century, US and Canadian diplomats forged the International Joint Commission to resolve disputes over waters from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Alaska.

More recently, we have worked through our International Boundary Waters Commission with Mexico to fight pollution and provide for the fair allocation and the use of the waters we share.

Our efforts have been far from perfect. We have made many mistakes. But we are learning, and the experience gained may help in resolving comparable issues overseas. And when I meet with both the Canadian and Mexican foreign ministers, as we do in a trilateral, we do discuss how we can solve these problems together.

But there are other issues that we need to deal with overseas. A good example is in the Middle East, one of the world's most environmentally-stressed areas -- stressed in other ways also, but environmentally stressed-areas -- where the United States chairs a working group on water resources. Its purpose is to encourage technical cooperation, and bring parties together with donors for the purpose of increasing water security for all.

This approach could well serve as a model for other parts of the world. Certainly, the need for greater cooperation exists in many regions.

In Central Asia, the former Soviet Republics inherited from their Communist predecessors a legacy of ecocidal practices. The two river systems of the Aral Sea Basin are sorely degraded. Improvements will depend on multilateral cooperation and the proper integration of technical and political resources. And as I said, I'll visit the region next week, and I hope to explore these issues with the local leaders.

In Southeast Asia, the Mekong River Basin is the primary source of economic survival for nearly a quarter billion people. But pollution, poorly-placed dams, and flooding may prevent the area from realizing its potential. A stronger political commitment from within the region, and better coordination from without, would improve the Mekong River Commission's ability to address these issues.

The longest river in the world is the Nile, whose waters flow through half a dozen countries in Central and Northeast Africa. Within the past year, these countries have made significant progress in working together. And this is good, because an agreement governing the development and management of basin resources would go far to reassure potential donors and combat the poverty that burdens much of the local population.

In recent weeks, torrential rain produced floods that devastated Mozambique and other parts of southeast Africa. But the main worry in most of the continent is not having too much water, but rather too little. And some of the horrendous pictures over the weekend of drought-affected Africa prove the point.

More Africans lack access to safe water now than a decade ago. Almost half the people on the continent suffer from water-related disease. The result is economically crippling and, from a humanitarian standpoint, flat out unacceptable.

The African Development Bank declared recently that the lack of integrated management for most of the continent's 54 transboundary water bodies is a potential threat to regional stability. The Bank approved a new plan for water resources management and pledged to help riparian countries work together. And the United States will back this effort.

More broadly this morning, in recognition of Earth Day and the spirit of last month's World Water Forum, I am proposing a global alliance for water security in the 21st Century. I have in mind not an alliance such as NATO that is limited to certain countries and comprised of governments alone but, rather, a less formal alliance open to all who comprehend the urgency of working together to conserve transboundary water, manage it wisely and use it well.

These are the right objectives, and we should help those striving to achieve them region by region, day by day.

Obviously, the core decisions can and must be made by local leaders and communities. Cooperation must come from within. But the United States is prepared to help create a more favorable environment.

First, we will seek allies willing to work with us in regions where serious transboundary water problems exist. Politically, we will promote cooperation and dialogue aimed at solving problems and creating trust.

Technically, we will build capacity and identify options for improving conditions on the ground. We will spur training in water management techniques, and encourage water engineers to forge relationships across national lines. We will support early warning and other means for reducing tensions and increasing confidence. We will promote the development of water sharing agreements and institutions capable of implementing them.

In so doing, we will be patient as well as urgent; for although the stakes are high, creating truly effective regional arrangements can take years, even decades. We must all be committed to a long-term effort.

Second, we will be inviting representatives from key donor countries to Washington in early summer to talk further about how we can better help others deal cooperatively with regional water issues. Our focus will be on supporting nations that show a willingness to develop and implement constructive strategies. And our goal will be to assure that donor assistance is not haphazard and at cross purposes, but rather coordinated and complementary.

Third, we will strongly support efforts by the World Bank and private foundations to see that investments in water-related projects reflect and encourage sound management practices.

Fourth, with the support from Congress, the State Department is contributing $2 million to start a new fund within the UN Development Program to improve regional water management. Our goal is to bring the parties together to discuss and resolve transboundary water problems, and we encourage other countries to contribute, as well.

And, finally, we will seek to develop a more regular and mutually productive dialogue with the scientific and academic communities on water-related issues.

Like so many of our current foreign policy challenges, progress depends on skills and knowledge that span many sectors of our society. A development expert can tell us what will work technically; an economist what may work financially; a diplomat what is practical politically. Put them all together, and we can move forward. Leave one out; and we will stand still.

Overall, the goals of our alliance must be to dramatically improve the management of transboundary water resources; eliminate water as a source of regional instability; and use cooperation on water as a basis for bringing nations together on other issues.

Our countries will benefit from this alliance through the easing of regional tensions, the emergence of stronger trading partners, and the evolution of a healthier world environment. And our citizens will be enriched in knowing that people everywhere are conserving and valuing water.

From history's dawn to this morning's, wells and streams, rivers and lakes, have meant life. Every great civilization has grown up around water. From the Ganges to the Mississippi, the Amazon to the Zaire, the history of rivers is the history of us. And there is no more unifying or naturally democratic force.

Creeks formed in the highlands of every continent gather strength in their journeys to the sea. And as they flow, channeled by swerve of shore and bend of bay, they cleanse, nourish and refresh all people--in metropolis and village, from the millionaire to the child who knows no other cup but the human hand.

Today, this irreplaceable resource is in irrefutable danger. For too many, the liquid we cannot live without bears within it the cause of illness, even death. It doesn't have to be.

This morning, in this historic setting dedicated to security and freedom, cradled by two great rivers, let us vow to join allies around the world in managing water wisely to the benefit of our children and the salvation of our Earth.

To this vital mission, I pledge my own best efforts, and respectfully summon yours. Thank you all very, very much.


Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

Following the address, Secretary Albright and Mayor Williams met with Roshawn Thompson and Andrika Shepperson of the Earth Conservation Corps next to the Anacostia River, which borders the National War College. The Earth Conservation Corps is a Washington-based partner of AmeriCorps and has been working to improve the water quality of the Anacostia River. Secretary Albright participated in tests of the river water for nitrate and oxygen levels conducted by members of the Earth Conservation Corps.Repesentatives of the Earth Conservation Corps
Repesentatives of the Earth Conservation Corps Repesentatives of the Earth Conservation Corps
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