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Research Report


Copyright Date: Aug. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 22
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 2-5)

    It is axiomatic that water is fundamental to all human endeavor. Water quite literally runs through every sector and touches nearly every issue of significance to the United States. Yet our world is hardly water secure (see box 1). Many societies face either a chronic undersupply of clean fresh water or a dramatic variability in that supply. A great many places are experiencing a rising demand for water at the same time that climate change and overuse are threatening water supplies. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the number of people worldwide living in river basins under...

  2. (pp. 6-8)

    The United States should develop a global water grand strategy focused on making societies more resilient to changing water conditions. The strategy implies the United States should counter societal fragility, to engage in a form of risk management in the face of uncertainty, as well as potentially chronic and acute water stress. A resiliency strategy would contribute to the United States’ ultimate goal, which is the creation and maintenance of a world that is more peaceful, stable, and secure.

    One of the consistent messages put forward by interviewees was that water should be thought of as a means to a...

  3. (pp. 9-10)

    American actors and organizations, from private firms and NGOs to academic institutions and faith-based groups, are present in innumerable water-related activities throughout the world. The US government likewise maintains expertise and engagement in global water issues. According to the State Department, over twenty separate agencies and departments make significant contributions to addressing international water and sanitation challenges. In fiscal year 2013 alone, US government investment for all international water sector activities surpassed $783.6 million.⁸

    The State Department leads an Inter-Agency Water Working Group to coordinate US government global water policy among a score of technical and military agencies. Working directly...

  4. (pp. 11-11)

    The United States possesses tremendous assets, resources, and capabilities to meet global water challenges. Interviewees emphasized the United States’ widely recognized expertise in data generation and knowledge management. US knowledge leadership takes several, mutually reinforcing forms, and resides throughout the whole of American society. The specialized technical agencies of the US government (NASA, NOAA, and the USGS, among others) marshal unparalleled data collection, monitoring, and modeling capacities, remote sensing, geographic information systems (known as GIS), and Earth observation platforms. US data acquisition capabilities are complemented by American expertise in information processing and utilization, exemplified by big data analytic applications such...

  5. (pp. 12-14)

    This section provides a roadmap for a two-stage process toward a global water grand strategy. The first stage consists of a ”Whole of America”-led WGS, built by civil society and the private sector in cooperation with the US government. This stakeholder-driven process would run from 2016 into 2017. The second phase would be to find ways to implement the WGS’s core findings. To realize the second goal, the strategy must be developed as a close partnership between the US government, civil society, and the private sector. The highest agenda item would be to ensure that the next presidential administration accepts...

  6. (pp. 15-15)

    It is worth asking what would happen if the next presidential administration does not accept the strategy’s underlying frames, objectives, or processes. In our opinion, such an outcome would not render a water strategy moot. Even under a scenario wherein the next administration did not participate in the WGS—whether in formulation or implementation—going through the strategy building process would still have enormous merit.

    Our interviewees believe that the US civil society and private sector bring fundamentally important resources, ideas, and activities to the table. As the nature of our society is government through participation, going through a “Whole...