Spending almost two weeks in Asia, there is one thought that kept careening through my mind: How is it possible to feed all of these people, and how is it possible to get a basic resource like water to all these tall buildings? Parts of Asia are the most populous places on earth. Asia has 30 percent of the land mass and more than 60 percent (4.4 billion people) of the world’s population.

I kept thinking of an interview with former Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., toward the turn of the 21st century. He had left his years in Congress and went on to push for reforms and issues he considered crucial to the survival of the United States and the world. He was the child of a Lutheran minister and a missionary, and for Sen. Simon the issue took on a missionary quality. The occasion of my interview was his book, “Tapped Out: The Coming World Crises in Water and What We Can Do About It.” Simon was ahead of his time, and his book outlines the need for water to sustain life (about 7,500 gallons a year) and the stability of conflict areas such as the Middle East because of issues of water. Water and its limits have had impact in many of the geo-political conflicts in the world. As Simon pointed out more than 15 years ago, many of the treaties that are negotiated focus on water and who gets the resource.

While traveling through Asia, the United Nations focused on the water problem as well with “World Water Day 2014,” and this year matched up the water problem with energy needs and consumption. Laying out the problem of water and energy, “World Water Day” underlined that “energy generation and transmission requires utilization of water resources, particularly for hydroelectric, nuclear, and thermal energy sources. Conversely, about 8 percent of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transporting water to various consumers.”

Despite the growing economies of Asia, Europe and the Americas, water is still a huge problem for close to a billion people. The U.N. states, “Worldwide, 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity, 768 million people lack access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation. Water and energy have crucial impacts on poverty alleviation.”

There are people who are trying to do something about this, and they have taken Sen. Paul Simon’s missionary zeal (and his moral/religious views) on water. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced a bill last August, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2013, or H.R. 2901. Despite having 61 bipartisan co-sponsors, the bill is going nowhere. It is not the first time around for this bill, as there was a similar bill passed in 2005, but that was a different time and a different Congress. The bill passed in 2005, which set a foreign policy priority for the United States, passed the House by 319 votes. This current bill can’t even get a vote by the full committee to make it to the floor even though it does not spend any new money and simply clarifies the previous bill so that money can be spent in a better and more focused way.

The full title of the current bill is: “To strengthen implementation of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 by improving the capacity of the United States Government to implement, leverage, and monitor and evaluate programs to provide first-time or improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene to the world’s poorest on an equitable and sustainable basis, and for other purposes.”

This is not controversial, and with bipartisan support should be enacted.

Members of Congress take many trips during their time away from Washington. They are called codels (congressional delegations), and these trips to fact find include visits to Asia and Africa. Often these trips involve meeting with high-level officials from other countries but members of Congress do not need to have high-level meetings to know that there is a huge problem with our No. 1 life sustaining resource: water.

All the members of Congress need to do is open their eyes. It is clearly a problem from the women who carry 30 gallons of water on their heads miles from the pumps in South Sudan to the tall apartment buildings housing millions of people in Asia. To not act is to bury our collective heads in the sand and fail to recognize that the current path we are on with the precious resource of water is not sustainable and will cause more wars and poverty and instability, unless there is action by the United States and other large world powers.

Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].


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