(Senate - March 02, 2005)

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[Congressional Record Volume 151, Number 22 (Wednesday, March 2, 2005)]
[Pages S1885-S1888]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. FRIST. Mr. President, I rise today to speak to legislation that 
will be introduced by myself and others later today that focuses on an 
issue which has for too long been neglected, not just by our people or 
our Government but, indeed, peoples around the world. It centers on the 
issue of access to safe water and sanitation. This legislation focuses 
on developing countries with specific policies outlined in the 
legislation. I am pleased we have Members on both sides of the aisle 
joining me as original cosponsors of this legislation which will be 
introduced later today.
  It boils down to the simple fact that every 15 seconds, a child dies 
because of a disease contracted from unclean water. Four children have 
died since I began talking on this particular issue.
  Fully 90 percent of infant deaths, of deaths of children less than 5 
years of age, relate to waterborne illnesses, a product of lack of 
access to clean water or inadequate sanitation. In total, water-related 
illnesses kill 14,000 people a day, and most of them are children. That 
is over 5 million people a year. It does not include the other millions 
of individuals who will be debilitated and prevented from living 
healthy lives.
  Globally, in many ways, waterborne disease is a silent tsunami. That 
is the impact it has on a continuing basis. Now is the time to focus on 
it. Now is the time to act because these are preventable deaths. 
Typhoid, cholera, dysentery, dengue fever, trachoma, intestinal 
helminth infection, and schistosomiasis can all be prevented by simply 
providing safe water and sanitation. More than 1.1 billion people today 
lack access to clean water. They do not have access to what we take for 
granted. We can go to the water faucets and drink water in most parts 
of this country, but lack of access to that clean water is killing a 
child every 15 seconds. Malaria, which is a mosquito-borne disease 
directly linked with stagnant pools of water, kills 1 million people 
each year. Again, most of those are young children. It is preventable.

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  Unfortunately, reliable projections suggest that the problem is bad, 
but projections are that it is getting worse. We know it is getting 
worse. Water stress and water scarcity, leading to disease-borne and 
impure water, is increasing. If we look forward to 2025, upwards of 
two-thirds of the world's population may be subject to water stress.
  There are over 260 river basins across the world that are shared by 
two or more countries that actually share the water basins. There are 
13 basins that flow through 5 or more countries. There, water is scarce 
where it is shared by so many. Yet it is so necessary that scarcity 
can, historically, result in armed conflict. Clean water seems so 
simple. It seems so basic. In America, we, for the most part, take it 
for granted. The rest of the world cannot.
  UNICEF reports that over half of the world's schools lack safe water 
and sanitation. In many parts of the world, including in Africa where I 
have the opportunity to visit, people travel not just an hour but 3 and 
4 hours to provide water on a daily basis for their family. In many 
ways, it becomes a women's issue globally because in most countries 
that burden falls upon women who are pulled away from addressing other 
issues such as their children and family. It takes time going to that 
water source and carrying it home.

  Imagine living in a rural village in Sub-Saharan Africa or East Asia 
where village members share their water with livestock, where you have 
contamination occurring on an ongoing basis. Imagine being a 
grandmother like Mihiret G-Maryam from a small village in Ethiopia who 
watched five of her grandchildren between the ages of 3 and 8 die from 
water-related diseases. Before the U.K.-based WaterAid organization 
intervened in her community, constant stomach pain and diarrhea were a 
fact of life, an accepted fact of life. The foul-smelling contaminated 
water exposed Mihiret and her neighbors to parasitic diseases. They had 
no latrines. Human waste, human excretions were everywhere.
  As Mihiret testifies:

       It was horrid to see, as well as being unhealthy.

  Now, because of the education and investment of WaterAid, together 
with the local church, her village is clean, and people no longer have 
to suffer from that chronic stomach ache, pain, and diarrhea. Clean 
water has literally saved lives. This story demonstrates that proper 
management and intervention can be a currency for peace and 
international cooperation.
  On my medical missions, I have seen this on a daily basis. Most 
recently, in January, a bipartisan group of Senators went to East Asia 
to serve in the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami. As I have 
mentioned in the Senate, traveling over the Sri Lanka coast for 
hundreds and hundreds of miles, we could see that devastation was 
nonstop. We saw the destruction of local water sources, water buckets 
washed away, and the contamination of wells with saltwater.
  We know the statistics: Well over 150,000 people died, and a million 
lost their homes. Many are still missing as of today. Thousands of 
children will grow up without their parents. It will take a lot of time 
and, yes, a lot of resources to rebuild that infrastructure. A lot of 
people will never recover from the psychological shock, and the scale 
of the tragedy is difficult to comprehend.
  I mention that because if you look at what happened in the tsunami, 
it illustrates what can happen when one focuses aggressively on relief 
with clean water. The tsunami poisoned wells, and the routine 
dependence on water was taken away. That lack of access to clean water 
introduced the potential for dysentery, for cholera, and for malaria.
  As we flew over the coast we could look out the window and see 
stagnant pools of water that, if left, will become a source of breeding 
for the mosquitos that ultimately could have led to a malaria epidemic. 
Those things did not happen because of the rapid relief addressing 
clean water and sanitation. We participated in these relief efforts. 
Many participated in some way.
  What is critical to understand in the immediate aftermath of the 
tsunami is that there are long-term solutions to the problem 
surrounding water which we in this body and our Government have not yet 
addressed. But when you have a child dying every 15 seconds from a 
preventable cause--that is, lack of access to clean water--there are 
things we can do to focus and, hopefully, prevent thousands and 
thousands of deaths that occur now every week.
  March 22nd is designated by the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 58/
217 World Water Day and will launch the International Decade For 
Action. That will launch an initiative called Water for Life. For the 
decade ahead--that is the next 10 years--from 2005 to 2015, the United 
States has agreed to work to reduce by one-half ``the proportion of 
people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water along with 
access to basic sanitation.''

  The President and the administration have taken steps to fulfill 
these commitments. In August 2002, the Water for the Poor Initiative 
was launched with the intent to improve sustainable management of fresh 
water resources in over 70 developing countries. An estimated $750 
million was invested in this initiative in 2004.
  However, in a time of limited public resources, we find that in that 
year only a little over 6 percent, or about a 20th of total U.S. 
foreign assistance funding for water activities, was targeted for sub-
Saharan Africa. Yet it is in sub-Saharan Africa that the major problem, 
for the most part, rests. It is an allocation of resources that we need 
to examine to see if it is appropriate instead of investing where the 
problem is. If the objective is to save lives, the allocation of our 
resources seems to be going to other areas. Sub-Saharan Africa is not 
only where we have the greatest problem today, but it has the fastest 
growing population. Thus, they will have some of the greatest need for 
clean water and sanitation in the future.
  As we look at the legislation we will be introducing, we all 
recognize there is no single piece of legislation that can fully 
address this huge challenge before us to eliminate these water-related 
diseases around the world. But I do think this legislation underscores 
the importance, in a bipartisan way, of continued leadership in this 
arena of addressing a problem that has been hidden from the world for 
too long. Alongside Government leadership, many dedicated 
organizations, private individuals, faith-based organizations, 
nonprofits, and international governmental organizations are working 
hard, each in their own ways, to address this challenge.
  The bipartisan legislation we are introducing today has three simple 
  No. 1, it would make it clear that we would have an unequivocal 
pronouncement that clean, safe water and sanitation, sound water 
management, and improved hygiene for people around the world is a major 
policy goal of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It becomes a major 
policy goal. It is not today, but it should be. And with this 
legislation it will be.
  Second, it would authorize a 5-year pilot program of $250 million a 
year to assist those countries that have the highest rates of 
waterborne diseases. This is what it does: It helps them develop 
funding mechanisms such as investment insurance, investment guarantees, 
or loan guarantees of up to 75 percent to develop sustainable--the key 
word is ``sustainable''--water infrastructure systems.
  Third, the legislation directs the Secretary of State, along with the 
Administrator of the USAID, to develop within 180 days a national 
strategy that would both assess what is being done today and what 
changes need to be made in order to expand access to safe water and 
sanitation. This national strategy would be produced in consultation 
with all of the Federal agencies addressing components of this problem 
today, along with appropriate international organizations, foreign 
countries, and U.S. nongovernmental associations and entities.

  I will close with mentioning this, as well: In the weeks ahead, I 
will introduce companion legislation to create a global health corps 
that will be using the Peace Corps as a model and inspiration. It will 
allow teams of medical professionals and other volunteers to travel to 
remote areas to provide medical treatment and public health 
information. Some of these teams will provide quick assistance when 

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strikes. Some will provide ongoing care in some of the neediest parts 
of the world. And many of these health volunteers would come from the 
ranks of experienced doctors, nurses, and medical technicians.
  We know that such public health and medical assistance can serve as a 
currency of peace and a vital tool of public diplomacy. Our assistance 
to other nations carries the most weight when it involves that personal 
and intimate contact at the community level, and where it also provides 
tangible benefits to everyday people. Medical and public health 
assistance does both of these things. Thus, it can be used as a 
currency of peace and a vital tool of public diplomacy.
  I look forward to the Foreign Relations Committee reporting this 
legislation in the near future, and I look forward to enacting this 
legislation expeditiously. Remember, every 15 seconds a child dies 
somewhere in the world from a waterborne illness because of a lack of 
access to clean water.
  In the short time I have given this statement on the Senate floor, 
another 50 children have died from diseases we know how to prevent. We 
must do our part to bring health and hope to the millions of people who 
need clean water. It is as simple as the glass of water that sits on my 
  I do thank the Democratic leader. We have been talking and working 
together on this legislation. I believe this can represent a tremendous 
bipartisan, ultimately bicameral effort that can reverse a human 
tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes as a product, at least in 
part, because of inadequate attention.
  Mr. President, I yield the floor.
  The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Democratic leader is 
  Mr. REID. Mr. President, these 50 children who have died during the 
presentation by the majority leader are children, of course, who have 
parents, and brothers and sisters in most instances. The grief and 
heartache is multiplied each day with the death of children. I 
appreciate very much the majority leader reaching out to make sure this 
is a bipartisan piece of legislation. I think it sets a good tone that 
the two leaders are moving forward on an initiative that speaks of the 
goodness of America. That is what this is all about. We care about 
children dying, wherever it happens.
  We have the unique situation in this Senate that we have one of the 
leaders, the Republican leader, who is a medical doctor. During his 
tenure in the Senate, he has traveled the world looking at medical 
problems that exist and there is no bigger problem than water.
  Our former colleague who recently passed away, Paul Simon from 
Illinois, wrote a book, ``Tapped Out.'' In that book, he mentioned some 
of the things I have said. The State of Nevada is different from the 
State of Tennessee. We have what we call rivers, but they are tiny, 
little. I do not know what they would be called in most States.
  The Colorado River is a river that at times can be a mighty river, 
but the rest of the rivers we have in Nevada are tiny, little rivers. 
The Truckee River, which supplies the second largest city in Nevada, 
Reno, with all its water, is a little stream. You can walk across it in 
most places. The world-famous city of Las Vegas gets 4 inches of rain 
every year.
  We need to do something about the lack of water around the country, 
and not only the lack of water but the quality of the water. A lot of 
places have water, but it is not water you can drink and stay healthy 
  I am pleased to join the majority leader in cosponsoring this 
important legislation. We are going to introduce it later today. Our 
staffs are working on the language.
  With this legislation, we are seeking to do something meaningful for 
the hundreds of millions of people across the globe who lack safe and 
clean water. It is something so basic, yet so critical to human life. 
Improving the delivery and access of clean and safe water, better 
hygiene and medicine, that is what this bill seeks to achieve.
  No one knows more in this body than the majority leader, from his 
travels in Africa and elsewhere, that over a billion people--and that 
is probably a figure that is too low--lack access to clean water. Each 
year, as has been indicated, millions of people die. We do not know how 
many people, but at least 5 million people die from water-related 
diseases. More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of 
violence, including war. Eighty percent of all sickness in the world is 
attributable to unsafe water and improper sanitation, and they go 
together in most instances.
  These statistics are staggering and disturbing because so much of 
this disease and despair is preventable. That is what the legislation 
is all about. We need greater U.S. and international involvement and a 
more proactive strategy. In addition, we need to fully fund this 
initiative and the other water programs currently undertaken by our 
  I am grateful the majority leader will shortly enter into a colloquy 
with me that directly addresses the strategy and funding problems. We 
are going to work together. This is bipartisan legislation. The 
majority leader and I are doing this not for purposes of showing we can 
do something together, which I think is an important message, but we 
are actually going to do something. We are going to do more than 
introduce this legislation. There is going to be more than authorizing 
legislation. We have a huge budget in the United States. I think we can 
find money to actually do this. It is important. And we do not have to 
take from other programs. I hope that is the case.
  So I look forward to continuing to work with the majority leader, 
Senator Leahy, and Senator McConnell, who are the ranking member and 
chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, and, of 
course, Senators Lugar and Biden, who are the chair and ranking member 
of the Foreign Relations Committee. There are others. But we are going 
to get working to make sure we do something positive to make sure the 
world is a safer place.
  When people are healthy, they have less problems with raising their 
children properly. It creates all across the world an influence that is 
positive and resolves many differences. We know, as is pointed out in 
the book by Senator Simon, in the future, wars are going to be fought 
over water, not over territorial boundaries necessarily, unless it does 
involve water. There is a shortage of water.
  If we can do some good work in the Middle East, for example, with 
water--and here, I have to compliment Israel. Israel, as we speak, does 
not have the best relations with some of its neighbors, but they have 
joint water projects that they are working on. There is not a lot of 
fanfare for that, but they all realize that water is important, as we 
  So again, I compliment and I applaud the majority leader for his 
initiative. I look forward with anticipation to doing something good 
for millions and even billions of people around the world.
  Mr. FRIST. I am pleased to enter into this colloquy with the 
distinguished minority leader and I appreciate his cosponsorship of the 
Currency for Peace Act of 2005.
  Mr. REID. I am grateful to the majority leader for raising the 
critical issue of the lack of safe water in developing countries. It is 
one of the world's most pressing development challenges which impacts 
hundreds of millions of people across the globe.
  Mr. FRIST. Unsafe water and water-related diseases have far reaching 
consequences. That is why U.S. Government, acting through the 
Department of State and the United States Agency for International 
Development, has been undertaking critically important programs in 
developing countries to provide clean and safe water, sanitation and 
hygiene for many years. These life-saving programs should be continued 
and expanded, wherever possible.
  Mr. REID. It is also critical for the United States and the 
international community to fully recognize the role that unsafe water 
plays in causing death, disease, poverty, environmental degradation, 
and instability. An aggressive and timely response is required, and the 
United States should be at the forefront of that effort. The U.S. 
Government and other donor nations must develop a more proactive 
response that commits greater resources and ensures that these 
resources are allocated where the greatest needs exist.
  Mr. FRIST. And while we bolster and enhance our existing programs and

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strategies, Senator Reid and I are pleased to put forward this new 
initiative that fully acknowledges the role that safe water plays in 
health and development. In the future, we must find the additional 
resources to fully fund the Safe Water Act of 2005, without decreasing 
our support for existing safe water and other foreign assistance 
  Mr. REID. I fully agree that the initiatives set forth in this act 
should be fully funded, but not with funds taken from existing and 
ongoing foreign assistance programs. I look forward to working with 
Senator Frist and the White House to obtain full funding for this 
program in the President's fiscal year 2007 budget and in subsequent 
years so the United States can implement pilot programs that can 
eventually be expanded to other countries in the future.