Senate Committee to Vote on Clean Drinking Water Bill

The bill emphasizes the importance of water and sanitation in U.S. foreign aid.

Senate Committee to Vote on Clean Drinking Water BillThe Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote at its next business meeting on a bill to provide safe drinking water to 100 million people, according to a committee staff member.

The meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 23, the staff member told Circle of Blue.

The Paul Simon Water for the World Act was introduced nearly one year ago, but has not been acted on by the Foreign Relations Committee.

“Our bill will reestablish U.S. leadership on water around the world,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, at a press conference in 2009.

“By bringing safe water and basic sanitation to 100 million of the world’s poorest people, the Paul Simon Water for the World Act will make America safer by reaffirming our standing as a leader in the fight to end global poverty,” Durbin said. “It will help prevent humanitarian catastrophes and dangerous conflicts around the world.”

To help provide clean drinking water, the bill would create an Office of Water within the U.S. Agency for International Development and a diplomatic position in the State Department to increase the importance of water and sanitation for U.S. foreign policy.

Currently, water policy at USAID is managed across several offices and bureaus.

Members of both political parties are among the 30 co-sponsors. Similar legislation — the Water for the Poor Act — was passed in 2005, establishing the United Nations Millennium Development Goal targets for water and sanitation as key elements of U.S. foreign assistance programs. The current bill gives more detailed guidance on how to achieve those goals.

Meanwhile, the House version of the bill is being held up in the Foreign Affairs Committee because it is part of a larger overhaul of foreign aid legislation, according to committee communications director Lynne Weil.

In order to restructure the U.S. water policy bureaucracy, both Senate and House versions of the bill would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Howard Berman, Democrat of California, is working on re-writing that act, which guides how the U.S. conducts its foreign aid programs.

“Any legislation that amends the Foreign Assistance Act is being considered for inclusion in the foreign assistance reform bill,” Weil told Circle of Blue. “That’s why individual pieces haven’t been considered separately.”

Berman’s bill, the Foreign Assistance Reform Act, would require the President to submit a national strategy for reducing global poverty and assisting economic growth in developing countries. The legislation would create an advisory council to complete annual assessments of the effectiveness of foreign aid programs.

Weil said that Berman intends to introduce the bill later this year.

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