They say the worst atrocities are committed through policies. I never fully understood the significance of that statement until last week when Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) utilized her leadership role in the House Foreign Affairs Committee to block a bill that would provide 100 million of the poorest people on the planet with clean, drinkable water.
From inside her D.C. office, one influential American has quietly killed the Water for the World Act (H.R. 2030) and prevented 100 million impoverished people from life's most basic source of survival... water. The number of people that Rep. Ros-Lehtinen has stopped the flow of water to is greater than the population of California, Florida and Cuba combined.
The humanitarian component aside, blocking the Water for the World Act is detrimental to national security and the U.S. economy. The modest investments made in sustainable, poverty-reduction efforts in the past have resulted in millions of people transitioning from barely surviving into becoming bona fide consumers of U.S. goods and products.
As bad as our economic situation may feel, the economy would be much worse if malnutrition hadn't been cut in half globally between 1990 and 2005. Millions of people -- who 20 years ago were living on less than $1 a day -- are now talking on cell phones, brushing with Colgate toothpaste, flying on commercial airplanes built by Boeing and driving on roads paved by Caterpillar tractors.
While the business community is insightful enough to recognize that the world's poor are the largest untapped market on earth, they're hardly alone in seeing the strategic reasons for improving the plight of the world's poor. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Gen. Colin Powell and a who's who of military leaders past and present have called on Congress to better fund global poverty-reduction efforts.
As the Bush Administration pointed out, "The events of September 11, 2001 taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murders. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders."
The Water for the World Act is a bipartisan bill that passed unanimously in the Senate. With over 95 Representatives cosponsoring the lifesaving legislation in the House, the bill appeared destined to pass and become a shining example of America at its best. That was before Rep. Ros-Lehtinen stopped the flow of water to 100 million people.
The good news is there is a solution to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's callous swipe at the world's poor. That solution is you. As few as 40 people in Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's district (Miami, Florida Keys) calling her office (305-668-2285) and leaving a message in support of the bill would profoundly improve the likelihood of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen supporting the Water for the World Act. Individuals who don't live in her district can help by encouraging anyone they know in the Miami-area to contact Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's office in support of the bill.
One influential American may be able to block clean, drinkable water to 100 million impoverished people, but I'm always amazed by the ability of a handful of ordinary Americans to right such wrongs. It's easy for a leader to smash the weak when nobody is watching, but life can be down right uncomfortable for them when they realize the whole country now knows.